ESnet a Key Partner on Project to Build Novel Network Research Infrastructure

Collaboration Will Fuel the Future of Computer Science and Networking Research

September 17, 2019

Contact: Kathy Kincade,, +1 510 495 2124

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today that it is funding a collaborative effort to create a nationwide research infrastructure that will enable the computer science and networking community to develop and test novel architectures that could yield a faster, more secure Internet. Dubbed “FABRIC,” the four-year, $20 million project is intended to support exploratory research, at scale, in computer networking, distributed computing systems, and next-generation applications. The project was chosen following an extremely competitive process and is funded through a new initiative, Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure, that is one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas.

“These awards represent the first in NSF’s agency-wide effort to support the mid-range infrastructure that will be invaluable to strengthening the U.S. scientific research enterprise,” said Jim Ulvestad, NSF’s chief officer for research facilities.

FABRIC map with logos

Anticipated FABRIC topology at the end of construction. (Select map to enlarge.)

Today’s Internet was not designed for the massive data sets, machine learning tools, advanced sensors, and Internet of Things devices that have become central to many research and business endeavors. FABRIC will give computer scientists a platform to test networking and cybersecurity solutions that can take advantage of new tools.

“FABRIC is not just targeted toward computer science research,” noted Inder Monga, Executive Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) and one of five principal investigators on the project. “We are building a large-scale, dedicated network testbed with integrated computing and storage to help domain researchers create and test new application workflows optimized for handling the data deluge and accelerating scientific discovery. This unique collaboration between DOE and NSF facilities has the potential to significantly impact U.S. scientific research and economic competitiveness.”

“We look forward to FABRIC enabling researchers throughout the nation to develop and test new networking technologies and capabilities,” said Erwin Gianchandani, acting assistant director for computer and information science and engineering at the National Science Foundation. “This project will lead to novel paradigms for next-generation networks and services, giving rise to future applications advancing science and the economy.”

A Next-Generation Network

Toward this end, FABRIC will comprise integrated storage, computational, and network hardware nodes connected by dedicated high-speed optical links. The nationwide high-speed (100 gigabit/sec to terabit/sec) dedicated network will interconnect NSF computing centers and FABRIC nodes at major research centers, including university campuses. The infrastructure will also provide access to select public clouds enabling multiple testbed research experiments to be conducted simultaneously while incorporating real traffic and users into those experiments. All major aspects of the FABRIC infrastructure will be programmable, so researchers can generate new configurations or tailor the platform for specific research purposes, such as cybersecurity.

“The next-generation network won’t just be transporting bits, it will be a mix of storage, processing, and data movement,” Monga said. “So the FABRIC nodes will feature heterogeneous computing capability, including GPUs, terabits of storage, and high-speed networking all in one,” Monga said. “FABRIC’s terabit network capacity, the supercore portion of the testbed, will enable next-generation big data and AI applications to experiment with data movement, streaming, caching, and computing at that scale. ”

This project is exciting for a number of reasons, he added. It will help test out innovative network designs and cybersecurity research at scale that could overcome current limitations and accelerate the adoption of new technologies within the Internet to enhance its broad benefits for science and society. In addition, through FABRIC, researchers will be able to explore new approaches to balance the amount of information a network maintains, the network’s ability to process information and its scalability, performance, and security.

“FABRIC is a big deal for the networking research community,” Monga said, while reminiscing about a series of government-funded programs that formed the basis for today’s Internet. “Research to solve problems facing the Internet or new approaches to applications need to be tested and proven at scale if they are to be taken seriously. We are building a dedicated infrastructure connecting multiple research institutions nationwide and leveraging a cross-collaboration of resources, from regional to national Research and Education networks, including ESnet’s dedicated optical platform.”

In addition to ESnet, the FABRIC team is led by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC, project lead), University of Kentucky, Clemson University, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Contributors from project lead UNC, the University of Kentucky, and ESnet will be instrumental in designing and deploying the platform’s hardware and developing new software. Clemson and Illinois Institute of Technology researchers will work with a wide variety of user communities – including those focused on security, distributed architectures, scientific applications, and data transfer protocols – to ensure FABRIC can serve their needs. In addition, leading researchers from partner universities will help test the platform and integrate their computing infrastructure and scientific instruments into FABRIC.

The full construction phase of the project is expected to last four years, with the first year dedicated to software development and finalizing technical designs and prototyping. Subsequent years will focus on rolling out the platform’s hardware in participating sites across the nation and working with leading researchers to generate early research results with this infrastructure. Ultimately, experimenter communities will be able to attach new instruments or hardware resources to FABRIC’s uniquely extensible design, allowing the infrastructure to grow and adapt to changing research needs over time.

“Right now we don’t know what’s the right balance between ‘smarts’ – how self-knowledgeable the Internet needs to be – and scalability and performance,” said Ilya Baldin, director of Network Research & Infrastructure at RENCI and FABRIC’s lead PI. “What we are offering is an instrument where these questions can be studied and researchers can make real progress toward envisioning the Internet of the future.”

ESnet is a DOE Office of Science user facility managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

This news release utilizes resources provided by FABRIC.