NSF announces $3 million award to expand FABRIC cyberinfrastructure globally

Anita Nikolich
Anita Nikolich, Director of Research and Technology Innovation and Research Scientist

A new $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will expand FABRIC, a project to build the nation's largest cyberinfrastructure testbed, to four preeminent scientific institutions in Asia and Europe. The expansion represents an ambitious effort to accelerate scientific discovery by creating the networks needed to move vast amounts of data across oceans and time zones seamlessly and securely.

Science is fast outgrowing the capabilities of today's Internet infrastructure. To fully capitalize on big data, artificial intelligence, advanced computation and the Internet of Things requires robust, interconnected computers, storage, networks and software. Uneven progress in science cyberinfrastructure has led to bottlenecks that stymie collaboration and slow the process of discovery.

FABRIC, launched in 2019 with a $20 million grant from NSF, is building a cyberinfrastructure platform where computer scientists can reimagine the Internet and test new ways to store, compute, and move data. With the new NSF award, a sister project called FABRIC Across Borders (FAB) will link FABRIC's nationwide infrastructure to nodes in Japan, Switzerland, the U.K. and the Netherlands.

"FAB allows collaborative international science projects to experiment with ways to do their science more efficiently," said FAB Principal Investigator Anita Nikolich, director of research and technology innovation at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois and Cyber Policy Fellow at the Harris School of Public Policy at University of Chicago. "Sending large quantities of data long distances—across borders and oceans—is complicated when your science depends on real-time processing so you don't miss once in a lifetime events. Being able to put FABRIC nodes in physically distant places allows us to experiment with the infrastructure to support new capabilities and also bring disparate communities together."

FAB will be led by the University of Illinois along with core team members from RENCI at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the University of Kentucky; the Department of Energy's Energy Sciences Network (ESnet); Clemson University; and the University of Chicago. Over three years, the team will work with international partners to place FABRIC nodes at the University of Tokyo; CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland; the University of Bristol in the U.K.; and the University of Amsterdam.

The project is driven by science needs in fields that are pushing the limits of what today's Internet can support. As new scientific instruments are due to come online in the next few years—generating ever larger data sets and demanding ever more powerful computation—FAB gives researchers a testbed to explore and anticipate how all that data will be handled and shared among collaborators spanning continents.

"FAB will offer a rich set of network-resident capabilities to develop new models for data delivery from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to physicists worldwide," said Rob Gardner, deputy dean for computing and research professor in the Physical Sciences Division at the University of Chicago and member of FAB's core team. "As we prepare for the high luminosity Large Hadron Collider, the FAB international testbed will provide a network R&D infrastructure we've never had before, allowing us to consider novel analysis systems that will propel discoveries at the high energy frontier of particle physics."

"FABRIC will tremendously help the ATLAS experiment in prototyping and testing at scale some of the innovative ideas we have to meet the high throughput and big data challenges ATLAS will face during the high luminosity LHC era," said ATLAS computing coordinators Alessandro Di Girolamo, a staff scientist in CERN's IT department, and Zach Marshall, an ATLAS physicist from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "The ATLAS physics community will be excited to test new ways of doing analysis, better exploiting the distributed computing infrastructure we run all around the world."

To ensure the project meets the needs of the scientists it aims to serve, FAB will be built around use cases led by scientific partners in five areas:

  • Physics (high energy physics use cases at CERN's Large Hadron Collider)
  • Space (astronomy and cosmology use cases in the Legacy Survey of Space and Time and the Cosmic Microwave Background-Stage 4 project)
  • Smart cities (sensing and computing use cases to advance smart, connected communities for the NSF SAGE project and work at the University of Antwerp and the University of Bristol)
  • Weather (use cases to improve weather and climate prediction at the University of Miami and Brazil’s Center for Weather Forecast and Climatic Studies)
  • Computer science (use cases in private 5G networks at the University of Tokyo; censorship evasion at Clemson University; network competition and sharing at the University of Kentucky; and software-defined networking and P4 programming at South Korea’s national research and engineering network, KREONET)

FAB will connect with existing U.S. and international cyberinfrastructure testbeds and bring programmable networking hardware, storage, computers, and software into one interconnected system. All software associated with FAB will be open source and posted in a publicly available repository: https://github.com/fabric-testbed

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