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Description of MREN Networking Initiatives



MREN Regional Networking Initiatives



MREN, the Chicago NAP, the MREN GigaPOP, and "MREN Optical Exchange"



MREN International Networking Initiatives









International Network Partnerships






MREN and the TeraGrid



MREN National Networking Initiatives



MREN Access to Remote Instrumentation Site World-Wide



The AREN Initiative: Advanced Networking for New Communities



Advanced Regional Networks



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 MREN is engaged in a wide range of advanced networking initiatives regionally, state-wide, nationally, and internationally, as well as those within metro areas. MREN is also engaged in ongoing mutually beneficial cooperative activities with technology research institutions worldwide.

Since its inception, MREN has been continually expanding and enhancing access for its constituent communities by providing additional high quality, high performance connectivity to new sites that are important to its membership. Because research communities interact with collaborators world-wide, MREN has provided high performance connectivity to multiple partnership sites not only in the region but throughout the midwest, the nation and the world—especially through the StarLight International/National Communications Exchange Facility (described below).

Traditionally, MREN has provided more than flexible, high performance connectivity among its member sites. MREN has also been at the forefront of advanced network service provisioning, developing new technical and business models related to leading-edge high performance networking and innovative network-based applications. MREN addresses technical considerations at multiple layers—application, network middleware, the network management, and infrastructure. Many major issues arise when provisioning high performance, high quality, advanced service across different architecture and domains. MREN continues to be a leader in addressing such issues, through its research projects, early prototyping and implementations of new technology, and continually evolving infrastructure and services. Through these and related projects, MREN contributes to the development of new models for next generation networks.

Many of the general issues being addressed through these types of projects relate to specialized high performance services required by high-end applications. For example, MREN has undertaken a number of experimental projects related to provisioning different classes of service on a common, shared infrastructure. Other experimental projects relate to ensuring persistent high-quality services across multiple domains and infrastructure. Several relate to a need for the dynamic allocation of network resources in direct response to application requirement requests -"intelligent application signaling." Also, MREN has participated in projects developing new types of techniques for programming networks, including through novel network control planes, especially for dynamically allocated lightpaths on DWDM networks. Techniques that have been explored involving emerging IETF protocols that allow for traffic segmentation, resource b allocation, and enhanced traffic shaping based on different performance requirements and specified classes of service, including those involving concepts of advanced reservation services. Some of these protocols can be used with appropriate scheduling to reserve and guarantee one or more high performance qualities of service from end to end as required by a particular application. Several early experimental segmentation techniques used were based on methods for identifying specific types of services as technique for managing traffic on a common infrastructure shared among multiple high-performance research applications, all requiring guaranteed and defined levels of QoS. Other projects have involved protocol based techniques for handling high volumes of specific types of traffic, requiring various explicit behaviors.


MREN Regional Networking Intiatives

As its name implies, MREN began as a metro area network, but it quickly expanded to seven states in the upper Midwest, and globally through partnerships with international research networks—interconnecting major research universities, national and international research networks, federal and corporate research centers, and federal agency networks. However, fundamentally, MREN is an advanced regional network, covering an area that reflects the much earlier CICnet, which was one of the first NSFnet regional networks (owned and managed by the CIC universities). Much of MREN's early expansion was driven by connectivity related to meritorious scientific research sponsored by the NSF. Initially, MREN was a "research-only" network. For example, almost all MREN members received grants for high-performance network connections through the National Science Foundation's High Performance Connections Program.

Currently, most expansion is driven by the requirements of advanced high performance services across multiple constituent communities. Many regional projects involve interconnecting digital services among multiple networks and sites in the upper Midwest. MREN is a network of networks, in part, because most sites are located in different domains. Various regional projects relate to providing consistency of high quality, high performance services across the region. Some recently established project activities involve expansion to additional research sites, interconnecting state-wide networks, providing links to national research and education networks, and planning for next generation network services and infrastructure, especially regional all optical networks.

Above all, MREN is an advanced network for advanced applications, and many projects focus on ensuring high-performance digital communication services for data and computer intensive applications. However, even while advancing leading-edge capabilities, MREN recognizes the need for developing methods for carrying broadband Internet traffic. MREN members generally provide a common link carrying both types of traffic to a connection point where the commodity traffic to segmented from the research traffic.

For the last three years, MREN has been a member of a national group of advanced regional networks that was formed to work on projects of mutual interest. In 2001, this group was formalized as a national project, termed the "Quilt," which has established several projects intended to advance the goals of regional networks.


MREN, the Chicago NAP, the MREN GigaPOP, and "MREN Optical Exchange"

To serve as an interconnection point for its community, MREN initially created the world's first GigaPOP at the Chicago Network Access Point (NAP). Nationally, in the early 90's, the NAPs were designed as layer 2 connectivity points to allow Internet providers to exchange traffic and routing information. Designed in 1993 and implemented in 1994, some of the design concepts behind the Chicago NAP were derived from the architecture developed by MREN for its core facility. MREN worked with Ameritech to create a NAP service, essentially a full mesh of ATM PVCs for the MREN community. ATM switches provide multiple virtual circuits over physical circuits, and, therefore, appropriate service assurances for the high performance traffic. Site routers are configured to view shared links as multiple logical interfaces, each with its own set of supported routes. For many years, this architecture and facility has been an important reliable resource for the MREN community.

However, the architecture and services of this facility are nearing the end of their lifecycle. For example, this facility cannot scale sufficiently to meet the demands of current advanced applications, especially those increasingly relying on Gbps links. Also, MREN has traditionally had a fairly flat architecture, essentially providing L2 services only, and would like to introduce some types of L3 services. Consequently, MREN is now involved in a project to define next-generation high-performance network services, such as those based on enhanced services, including layer 3 services, and specialized facilities such as those based on lightwave switches supported by advanced optical fabrics (IP-over-Lightwave). Also, a prototype MREN optical exchange facility is being planned—a TeraPOP, which will support the next generation MREN, the "Optical MREN." (Previously, an earlier advanced exchange design concept was refereed to as a "Multimode GigaPOP.") This project is being developed in conjunction with the StarLight project, (described below). These projects also include creating business models for such facilities and services.


MREN International Networking Initiatives

MREN was among the earliest advocates for partnerships among advanced research networks worldwide, and led the way by inviting such networks to join its consortium. Early members were CANARIE (the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education,, CERN (European particle physics research network,, APAN (Asia Pacific, and SURFnet (Netherlands,

MREN's primary partner for international advanced networks world-wide is the StarLight consortium. The StarLight International/National Communications Exchange Facility was developed as the successor to the the earlier Science Technology and Research Transit Access Point (STAR TAP,, funded by the National Science Foundation. The STAR TAP, founded in 1997, was the world's first facility that allowed all international high-performance R&E networks to peer at a single point. This facility allowed for circumventing difficult problems of transit. STAR TAP also allowed for connections generally not permitted by some network acceptable use policies. STAR TAP has complemented the NSF High Performance International Internet Services (HPIIS) program and initially supported the G7 Global Information Infrastructure project "Global Interoperability of Broadband Networking" (GIBN).

StarLight, the optical STAR TAP, is an advanced optical infrastructure and proving ground for network services optimized for high performance applications. StarLight was established and is operated by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC),the International Center for Advanced Internet Research at Northwestern University (iCAIR,, and the Math and Computer Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory (ANL,, in partnership with Canada's CANARIE and the Netherlands's SURFnet.. StarLight provides interconnection services and facilities that enable international connectivity and interoperability of US research networks and high performance networks of other nations. StarLight continuously reinforces the importance of advanced digital communications for the worldwide scientific research communities.

Also, StarLight is a major enabler of the iGRID global network advanced application showcases. Started in 1998, the biennial iGrid (International Grid) event showcases application advancements and middleware innovations enabled by globally connected, high-performance networks.

StarLight is also a major exchange integrated with the Global Lambda Integrated Facility (GLIF), which supports the design, implementation and operation of multiple large scale customized high performance networks. MREN and StarLight support international and national scale demonstrations at the annual Global LamdaGrid Workshops, as well as at supercomputing conferences.

Optical networks allow for a far greater degree of network configuration flexibility than existing networks. StarLight provides the required tools and techniques for (university) customer-controlled and even application controlled 10 Gigabit network flows to be switched and routed to research and commercial networks, empowering application to dynamically adjust and optimize network resources.

AnotherStarLight related initiative is TransLight?StarLight, an international initiative that is designing and implementing a global-scale advanced services and capabilities for e-Science. TransLight/StarLight's advanced design and technologies based on optical networks supported by switched wavelengths will significantly increase transport capacity with predictable traffic attributes.




The MREN community has been working with the I-WIRE project in Illinois, an effort to deploy a dark fiber infrastructure interconnecting Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Illinois (Chicago and Urbana campuses, including the National Center for Supercomputing Applications- NCSA and the Electronic Visualization Laboratory- EVL), the University of Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, and a commercial collocation facility in the downtown Chicago area. EVL, ANL and NU are using I-WIRE fiber to support connections to Starlight, the next generation STAR-TAP hosted by Northwestern University's Chicago campus at 710 N. Lake Shore Drive (Abbott Hall). I-WIRE supports optical network research, engineering studies, and high-performance distributed systems and applications research and development. Optical interconnection is possible soon with potential collaborators such as Washington University in St. Louis and Indiana University's network hub in Indianapolis as well as Optical channels between I-WIRE and sites in the US (Seattle, St. Louis, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Atlanta, San Diego), Canada, Japan and Europe. (Ref:



MREN and the TeraGrid

In 2002, MREN assisted its community to acquire appropriate access to the TeraGrid, which wsa established as a multi-year effort to build and deploy the world's largest, fastest, most comprehensive, distributed infrastructure for open scientific research. The TeraGrid provides over 20 teraflops of distributed cluster computing power distributed at multiple high performance TeraGrid sites, facilities capable of managing and storing several hundred terabytes of data, high-resolution visualization environments, and toolkits for grid computing. These components are tightly integrated and connected through a network that will initially operated at 40 gigabits per second.

The TeraGrid project hasbeen funded by the National Science Foundation and included four initial partners: the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego, Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) in Argonne, IL, and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. Other major supercomputing centers later joined the consortium (Ref:


MREN National Networking Initiatives

The MREN community has been directly involved in a wide-range of Next Generation Internet policy and project activities for almost a decade. For example, in the early 1990's, this community assisted in developing policies related to support for a next-generation, national information infrastructure. The commercial, general business and consumer Internet does not advance rapidly enough to meet requirements for high-performance organizational networking, intranetworking, and internetworking among many research and education communities. This observation is especially true for scientific research communities.

A national advanced network infrastructure is required for modern economies, capable of providing high-performance, reliable, high-capacity communication services. Such an infrastructure should also allow for the reservation of required network resources and guarantees that performance will match application requirements. This national infrastructure is required to enable a wide range of new capabilities including nation-wide and world-wide common capabilities. This infrastructure also is required to support access to remote instrumentation, to major digital resource repositories, and among multiple organizations—at some point—access to any location, at any time.

In the mid-1990s, the MREN community supported the efforts of the National Science Foundation to support connectivity for the research community, through the vBNS project (Very Broadband Networking Service, now the vBNS+) and the NSF High Performance Connections program.

In 1996 the MREN community helped establish the national University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (, which led to the implementation of the national Abilene network. This national networking initiative has established a national backbone that interconnects regional "GigaPOPs," and thereby functions as an interchange cloud for multiple national research and education networks. MREN connects to Abilene at GE, which was one of the first GE connections to the Abilene network.


MREN Access to Remote Instrumentation Sites Nation-Wide

From its inception, the MREN community has been involved in efforts to enhance communication among collaborative researchers nationally, including access to remote instrumentation sites nation-wide, e.g., high performance computational resources through the TeraGrid, Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, Yerkes Observatory near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; the Chicago Air Shower Array (CASA) in Dugway, Utah; the Apache Point Observatory in Apache Point, New Mexico; and national laboratories and research centers, such as Brookhaven National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the national supercomputing centers (MREN is a supporter of the PACI initiative), and the Goddard Space Flight Center.


The AREN Initiative:  Advanced Networking for New Communities

Leveraging the experience of the current MREN community, a process has been developed to allow broader expansion of high-bandwidth, high performance network capabilities. MREN has established a parrtnership with Ameritech that allows it to be an incubator for products and services to be offered through Ameritech to wider research, academic, and commercial constituencies. One project, the Advanced Research and Education Network (AREN) project allows access to high performance networking for new communities, such as colleges, museums, and other non-profit organizations. Recently, to assist this process, the Illinois Century Network (ICN) has joined with the MREN community to provide ICN members access to Abilene under the SEGP program. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) has provisioned a GE MREN circuit under this program to support advanced medical imaging for the Radiological Society of North American annual conference at McCormick Place. Also, the Children's Memorial Hospital has provisioned a GE circuit under this program.


Advanced Regional Networks

MREN is one of a number of advanced regional networks interlinked through national backbone networks. Following is a list of other advanced regional networks. (Merit and OARnet are also members of MREN):





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