Founded in 1991, Taiwan's National Center for High-performance Computing (NCHC), part of the National Application Research Laboratory, is dedicated to creating high-performance computing and networking solutions to advance Taiwan's academia and research interests.
Initially, the NCHC's focus was to provide a centralized, nationwide facility for computational services, but it grew to include high-performance networking, beginning with the implementation of TANet2, a next-generation national research network. In addition to TANet2, the Center has also developed the National Broadband Experimental Network (NBEN) and KING (Knowledge Innovation National Grid). By offering both computing and networking resources, NCHC provides a complete solution to fuel advancements in the island's academic and industrial research.
Taiwan's new national research network, called TWAREN (Taiwan Advanced Research and Education Network), is part of a nationwide six year plan to provide upgraded facilities for innovation and research. Designed to be an umbrella network for all non-commercial and high-performance networks, TWAREN will initially link together 60 campuses and scientific research institutions. TWAREN takes NCHC one step closer to its goal of helping Taiwan become the gateway for global research and education networks within the Asia Pacific region.
THE NETWORK CHALLENGE
The vision for TWAREN was to create a network that is future-proof, with state-of-the-art performance, and the ability to evolve with user demand and technology. To do this the designers had to meet a number of challenges.
To meet the rapidly growing and dynamic needs of Taiwan's educational community, and to support connectivity with global research networks, the TWAREN network would have to be readily scaleable and possess substantial bandwidth. The network would also need to scale in a flexible and timely fashion to keep pace with the often dynamic requirements of research projects. Previous standards of 90 days to provision a service would not support modern research scenarios. The TWAREN network would need to respond to research collaborators' service requests that could change from one week to the next.
A second major challenge facing the network designers was the emergence of three distinct classes of user. First, there is the current IP traffic of the many universities in Taiwan; second, the high-bandwidth real-time capacity for national and international science projects; and third, experiments associated with the advanced network infrastructure itself.
TWAREN would also require the ability to support SANs and multiple service types, including FC, FICON, ESCON, and FC over IP. The SANs requirement would also increase the demand for bandwidth, further stretching the need for scalability.
NCHC looked at a number of alternatives, including using a group of linked metropolitan-area networks (MANs), delivering pure IP services. This was ruled out once it was determined that, if two research bodies needed bandwidth for a special project, the NOC would have had to draw up a service-level agreement, for services such as a VPN, MPLS, tunneling through IP, and quality of service (QoS), extending the delivery time by weeks or even months. And as a linked MAN network expanded in size and number of users, service provisioning would increasingly become more complicated and cumbersome.
THE SOLUTION: IP PLUS OPTICAL
In June of 2003, NCHC selected Cisco Systems® as the primary network equipment provider and system designer. Engineers from Cisco Systems and NCHC designed a future-proof, state-of-the-art, dynamic network to meet the evolving needs of the Island's research and academic communities.
The TWAREN national research network comprises three networks. The first is the Production Network, targeted at the educational sector, providing IP over SDH/SONET for Internet peering and data exchange. The second is the Research Network, offering eight gigabit Ethernet services (with one carrying IP services). This network delivers very high-performance, high-bandwidth services for scientific research, both for projects within Taiwan and for collaborative projects with overseas research bodies and the emerging global network of NRNs. The third is an underlying Optical Network that comprises the fiber backbone and circuits to the network POPs. The universities and research bodies linked to the POPs can obtain peer-to-peer services from the optical network, enabling them to manage the bandwidth, protocols, and provisioning requirements for special connectivity, as needed.
Physically the network comprises four core nodes (Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung, and Tainan), connected by dual 10G optical fiber links. From each of the four nodes, dual 10G IP over Ethernet circuits, plus one dark fiber, radiate out to POP locations at major universities and research laboratories.
The four network nodes are supported by Cisco ONS 15600 Multiservice Switching Platforms (MSSP) and Cisco ONS 15454 Multiservice Transport Platforms (MSTP) that provide enhanced SDH capabilities and can also support intelligent dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) technology for higher fiber bandwidth. The four core nodes also have Cisco GSR Gigabit Switch Routers. The 11 POPs have high performance 7609 edge routers and they are also equipped with 15454 MSTPs for IP/Multiprotocol Label Switching.
The KING (Knowledge Innovation National Grid) network is now incorporated into TWAREN. KING is a supercomputing Grid planned at the same time as TWAREN, which provides the connectivity to enable researchers across Taiwan to access Grid computing and collaborate both with each other and colleagues in other countries.
IP PLUS OPTICAL NETWORK VALUES
TWAREN's high-performance optical network enables researchers to control their own provisioning and network management, something of crucial importance to scientists and university researchers when collaboration on scientific projects requires networking for only the duration of a project. With this new network, Gigabit Ethernet links between two users can be established with a few mouse clicks, in 30 seconds or so. By using an optical infrastructure, researchers throughout Taiwan can easily manage their network services, provisioning on demand the bandwidth, services (either IP or 10-Gbps Ethernet), security, and access they require.
Above the optical layer, the Cisco switches and routers provides a multiservice IP network with predictable levels of service, latency, and reliability for all applications. Services available to users include peer-to-peer networking, IPv4 and IPv6, Ethernet, VoIP, H323 videoconferencing over IP and IP TV.
TWAREN has major advantages in international connectivity, both because of its flexibility, its peer-to-peer optical network, and its overall architectural similarity to other state-of-the art national research networks. "Networks such as National LamdaRail Network, which joins research and academic institutions in the USA, CENIC in California, linking thousands of schools and universities, and SURFnet, an academic network in the Netherlands, have all chosen to use IP plus Optical architecture, to give users peer-to-peer control over their bandwidth and QoS. The architecture we choose for TWAREN reflects the main trend in world-class NRN technology," said Charles Smith, lead network designer, Cisco.
"By facilitating international collaborative research, TWAREN enables Taiwan to transcend geographical boundaries and explore new possibilities in R&D, global collaboration and learning, discoveries and innovation," commented Juang Zhe Nan (Joe Juang), director, National Science Council's NCHC. "I am confident that we have made the right choice on Cisco's well-proven IP and optical networking technology, and am looking forward to enjoying the ultra-high performance and reliability the company's products offer in this demanding field."
TWAREN represents a massive increase in the bandwidth for Taiwan's universities and research institutions yet their demands continue to grow. Additional bandwidth throughout the network can easily be obtained in 10GB increments by adding interface cards and fiber to the Cisco 15600 and the Cisco 15454. Beyond that, DWDM cards can enable multiplexing through the optical layer, increasing the bandwidth even further.
Today, TWAREN supports international collaboration between scientific organizations like NTHU and US Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory. Separated by the Pacific Ocean, these two teams are conducting advanced virtual research on fruit flies, involving microscopy brain probe imaging and a comprehensive online imaging database.
Other advanced projects rely on Grid supercomputing technology, including ECO-Grid, National Land Use Monitoring and Analysis, Monitoring of building structure for earthquake risk, Flood forecasting, the SARS Grid, and eLearning.
The importance of high-bandwidth, high-performance networks to Taiwan's education, research, and economic development can only increase with time, which is the impetus behind NCHC's strategy. TWAREN serves this strategy in two ways: First, by providing a world-class IP and optical NRN network with a clear and easy upgrade path; second, with triple network architecture that provides supreme performance as IP becomes the dominant global protocol, while offering multiservice offerings that satisfy the diverse needs of Taiwan's dynamic and international economy.