| 03.17.2018

UI widens its pipes — Grant enables UI to upgrade data pipeline

The University of Idaho will climb to equal footing with the majority of large U.S. research institutions, after being recently awarded a $450,000 grant to upgrade its network capabilities. 

The National Science Foundation, in an effort to increase national data capacity and connectivity, contributed this grant to UI to fund the replacement of outdated network hardware. The outdated equipment hindered university researchers ability to share large sets of data around the region and internationally.

“Now with all the major research going on, we have a need to move a lot more data,” said Daniel Ewart, chief information officer for UI Information Technology Services. “With this grant, we can now do that.”

Specifically, Ewart and his team are widening the university “data pipeline” to 10 times its current size, in order to more efficiently and effectively share and store research data.

Campus hardware “bottlenecks” will first be removed and then work with the Idaho Regional Optical Network to connect UI to the rest of the state on their network infrastructure.

“They connect all the research institutions in the state … hospitals, government agencies and some of the tribes are connected by IRON,” Ewart said.

He said this project will take three to six months to complete, and currently his team is planning to be done by March 1.

Paul Gessler, a professor in the UI College of Natural Resources and the grant’s principal investigator, is responsible for seeing this enhancement to completion. Gessler also worked with a team to develop the proposal to ask the NSF for the grant.

The bandwidth enhancement will aid all researchers at UI, but will especially serve the Northwest Knowledge Network, a collaborative project for data management among northwest research institutions, including UI.

“The NKN was established as a project to support all research projects that would be managing large data sets,” Gessler said. “The NSF and most federal granting bodies now require that you have a data management plan … and that data has to be stored and made publically available.”

One of the larger projects, Gessler said, would benefit from the bandwidth upgrade is a $20 million USDA research project.

The project is a regional approach to climate change for Pacific Northwest agriculture, and is a collaborative effort between UI, Washington State University and Oregon State University.

The UI Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies, or IBEST, is a research body that will also see heightened capabilities in big data movement due to the enhancements, Gessler said. IBEST provides genomic sequencing for researchers on and off campus, and operates a computational resources core facility.

“This is only the first step,” Gessler said. “We’re now intending to go back and propose for some additional resources once this first component is in place.”

Once this upgrade is complete, the university will be eligible for a $1 million enhancement to further increase its core network capabilities. Gessler said the NSF is in the process of building a 100-gigabit backbone to connect research institutions all over the US, which he said UI will eventually propose to join.

George Wood Jr. can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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