Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center 

Advancing the state-of-the-art in high-performance computing,
communications and data analytics.

PSC to Build Early Warning Tool for Fixing Internet Traffic Jams

$300,000 National Science Foundation Grant Will Use Web10G Data to Warn Users, Administrators for Proactive Repair of Slow Data Flow

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A new, $300,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will enable software engineers at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) to build the first practical tool for warning individual users and their network administrators when their connection has developed a problem that will slow or halt data flow. The one-year project will build a tool called XSight, intended to become a standard part of the toolbox for maintaining network connections for all operating systems. XSight will build on PSC’s Web10G, a set of software tools for obtaining connection data.

“XSight will represent a proactive approach toward resolving network problems,” says PSC’s Chris Rapier, principal investigator in the project. “It’s different from other approaches to measure network performance because it takes advantage of Web10G’s ability to collect data on individual data transfers, both in the network and in an application’s interaction with the network.”

Previous attempts to measure network performance, while useful for administrators trying to recognize systemic problems, were unable to provide information either timely or detailed enough to help individual users with networking problems. Some of these methods depend on average data flow—like measuring traffic flow through an intersection over the course of a month rather than recognizing a traffic jam happening today. Some of them require invasive investigation by network administrators, taking bandwidth away from the user while admins figure the issue out. Some require users to report slow flow, which isn’t realistic when users must schedule jobs for off-peak hours—and in any case, many users simply don’t recognize when their data flow has slowed to an unacceptable speed.

By making use of the data available from Web10G, XSight is intended to overcome all of these problems, providing an automated warning system that detects data slowdowns and their causes before they become acute.

“XSight’s heuristics will automatically identify flows that are under-performing, before a user would notice,” Rapier says. “It’s the first practical tool we’ve developed from what was a research project to create Web10G.”

XSight will exploit Web10G’s ability to pull data about network connections out of TCP/IP, the set of protocols for transferring data that underlie the entire Internet. Because TCP/IP was not designed originally to produce or record detailed information about data transfers, the NSF-funded Web10G was necessary to create and extract such information. PSC developed Web10G in collaboration with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

The XSight project will be funded through the NSF’s Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) program. EAGER supports “high risk/high payoff” early stage exploratory work on “untested but potentially transformative research ideas or approaches.”

Dig, Simulations on PSC's Blacklight Suggest Extinction Refuge, Trigger for Modern Human Behavior

Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015

PSC's Blacklight supercomputer features prominently in an International Science Grid this Week story about Curtis Marean of Arizona State University, leader of an international team studying early human settlements in the Cape Floral region of South Africa. Marean is triangulating what may have been humanity's closest brush with extinction using three avenues of research. The team's archeological digs have demonstrated human habitation and life-sustaining protein and carbohydrate food sources at a point in the last glacial maximum when virtually no evidence of humans can be found elsewhere in Africa. DNA evidence points to a roughly contemporaneous genetic bottleneck in which the population crashed to 15,000 or fewer individuals. And new climate simulations of the area using Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center's Blacklight supercomputer for the first time provide enough detail to show the area was likely to be an island of moderate climate at a time when the rest of Africa was too arid to support human life. Interestingly, humans began to display modern behavior such as heat-treating stones for tools and artistic representations during this period.