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UK Receives $1.7 Million NSF Grant to Advance Virtual Laboratory Infrastructure

A new grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund operation of the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) virtual laboratory and support researchers in planning a new and more powerful infrastructure to replace GENI. The NSF allocated $1.7 million to the effort, called Enabling NeTwork Research and the Evolution of a Next Generation Midscale Research Infrastructure (ENTeR) . The project will be jointly led by researchers at the University of Kentucky and the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For the past decade, GENI has provided critical resources that researchers and students across the U.S. use to develop and test new network designs and distributed applications at scale on a connected system that is separate from the Internet. Jim Griffioen, director of UK’s Center for Computational Sciences and professor of computer science, is the UK principal investigator for ENTeR.

“GENI is a nation-wide network testbed that enables researchers and students to experiment with future internet applications, services, and architectures," said Griffioen. "Unlike the existing Internet, GENI allows researchers to use software defined networking techniques to re-program the network so that it can support network applications and services not possible today."

Researchers using GENI have published more than 370 scientific papers on a broad range of experiments, including testing new or emerging network protocols, developing ways to transport data such as videos more efficiently and answering scientific questions in fields from biology to astronomy. GENI has also provided a resource for teaching classes about networking and distributed computer systems and allowed students to use and experiment with real networks that they built themselves.

Building the testbed of the future 

With the new funding, researchers will explore what parts of GENI could be relevant in the next-generation testbed and how to incorporate future computational and storage models into the infrastructure. They are looking toward building a testbed with the ability to perform computations in both centralized and distributed clouds as well as within the network itself.

“This new testbed infrastructure could be used to build an application that performs processing on the fly, such as would be required by internet-of-things devices that stream data constantly,” said Ilya Baldin, principal investigator for RENCI. “On the other hand, it could also be used for experimenting with centralized cloud computing, which is more appropriate when there are substantial computational requirements.”

Although it is difficult to predict all possible uses of the next-generation testbed, it might help researchers examine emerging problems such as how to ensure security for internet-connected devices from cars to home appliances. It could also serve the science community by providing an experimental environment for processing large amounts of data quickly, allowing scientists to get to answers faster and reducing time to discovery.

An operational change

The new project also introduces a new operational approach for GENI. Until now, GENI Project Office housed at BBN/Raytheon was charged with making budget decisions, directing the technical support efforts, ensuring the system’s security and providing technical support to the community using GENI. With this new grant, control of GENI will be transitioned to RENCI and the University of Kentucky. Subcontracts were also awarded to the University of Maryland, the University of Utah and Internet 2, a non-profit computer networking consortium. 

“The transition from centralized management of the GENI network to a distributed management structure will enable the research community as a whole to take ownership and drive the future direction of GENI,” said Griffioen. “Community input and direction will be critical as we look to develop the next generation testbed network infrastructure.” 

Stephanie Suber, RENCI, and Kel Hahn, UK College of Engineering contributed to this article.