Book of the Week: Gordon Cook’s Report on the Core Global Research Networks in their relation to the edge

As a more ambitious goal, I am seeking to establish whether or not there can be a community-of-interest between the high-end research groups and a rapidly growing grassroots “edge”. These are efforts of small communities of mostly younger people located currently at the edges of twentieth century, large, corporate-based society.

* Book / Report: Fast Thinking. a Research and Education Network Renaissance. Gordon Cook. Volume XIX, No.s 11-12, XX, No.s 1-5 February – August 2011

(To receive the URL for downloading the entire book,(twenty dollars US via paypal) fill out the request here)

Gordon Cook, who is the driver of a network of communications infrastructure experts via the Internet Cook Report, a mailing list and newsletter, has published a very in-depth overview of the “other internet”. This is the internet that is used to drive massive collaboration global innovation in science and technology. However, it is far from being a technical report, but poses all the important issues posed by an infrastructure for mass collaboration, and all the social and political issues that are involved in building it.

In our first serialization of the summary of this work, we focus on the first two sections of this remarkable report, which should be of interest not just to technical experts, but also to policy makers and the p2p-oriented open infrastructure movement.

* Preface

By Gordon Cook:

“Globally, a small group of people use Internetworked computers for purposes far more profound than than electronic mail and web browsing. They are developing what I call a globally connected, collaborative operating system for scientific research. Few people are aware of the implications of what they have done. I have written Fast Thinking — a Research and Education Network Renaissance to explain and celebrate their achievements. The purpose of this six-part summary is to relate what they have done and get readers to think how it might be applied to the social, economic and political problems that threaten our society today.

Part I. A Global Collaborative Operating System and Infrastructure as a Foundation for a Different Internet

Fast Thinking — a Research and Education Network Renaissance portrays the development of what I choose to call “a global collaborative operating system” based on optical networks which are lit and managed by their Research and Education owners. This federated system of NREN-lit optical networks is becoming a global infrastructure that I contend may emerge as the circulatory system holding civilizations together on all the continents much is the sea lanes provided the opportunity to do so in the four centuries between the Renaissance and the replacement of those sea lanes by airways as a part of the global industrial system in the 20th century.

In 2011 the global collaborative OS is in an early operational stage. Fast Thinking describes its multiple layers and protocols at a technical level as well as from the operational point of view, where national research networks are beginning to release collaboration interfaces for their users and to refine the connective glue offered by the virtual organizations of various grids that enable researchers to plug into the resources they need to do their work.

Fast Thinking takes a broader view of the global ecosystem than what its architects may have intended. The new application tools that I describe are a means to enhance communication and collaboration among researchers and networked communities as well as social groups. These groups are all trying, in independent and yet parallel ways, to bring cooperation and collaboration into research, teaching, and economic activity as a whole.

The new OS invites its users to create the new knowledge that others write about and Google helps still others to find.

The work the Research and Education Network architects are doing is designed to raise the productivity of their university based customers. However, observing what is happening and trying to make sense of it all as it happens, is rather like riding the crest of a breaking wave and trying to figure out how the currents will arrange themselves. Nevertheless, the effort is one that I believe should be undertaken with the hope that it will further a more widely-held understanding of the kind of civilized future in which we should all want to be investing. We all need to become “customers” of the R and E Network designers.

To understand this new world it is necessary to grasp what a full-fledged, optical-network-based, research and collaboration network ecosystem looks like. This book describes the Netherlands version in detail. With continued build outs by Internet2, ESnet and US UCAN, it also shows what it could look like in the USA. In this context, it becomes important to make more people aware of what is happening and the possibilities inherent within SURFnet, the GLIF and, in the United States, Internet2.

In my judgement describing just the technology without examining its possible impact on the world to which it is applied makes no sense. Therefore the beginning and the end of this work, that is the Preface and Chapter 1 and Chapters 17, 18 and 19 contain a political and economic framing for the global optical collaborative infrastructure.

The Global R and E Infrastructure

A group known as the Global Lambda Integrated Facility has evolved to the point where it meets twice a year to coordinate the interconnection of most of the world’s research and education networks. A national R&E network cannot stop at a national boundary. Therefore the GLIF exists to ensure the inter connection by means of lightpaths of the world’s R & E networks. What I call a “global cooperative operating system” has been overlaid on top of photonic networks that is “lightpath” networks. These photonic (lightpath) networks operate at layer 1 and 2 and connect to layer 3 on an as-needed basis. The primary thing being done within the GLIF is the provisioning of large optical links of 1 Gb and above to members on an as needed basis.

The Research and Education Networks of North America, Europe, and Asia are building an overlay infrastructure designed to facilitate globally diverse research projects that lie across all disciplines of learning. However not surprisingly, these are ones that start out needing high-end instruments like radio telescopes or the Large Hadron Collider and large amounts of computational power to be applied to massive acquisition of data. Consequently, the research and education network operators in each country are doing two things in parallel. First they are providing what they call collaboration infrastructure systems. Named coManage in the case of Internet2 and conNext in the case of SURFnet. These systems are designed as an organizational infrastructure to take the eligible research and education populations of each country and provide the mechanisms for authenticated connection and authorized use of the R&E networks. These collaboration infrastructure systems are covered in Chapters 2, 3 and 4.

Processing power, storage facilities and access to instruments

In parallel to this, each national research and education network offers its authorized users an entire ecosystem of computational and storage facilities. These facilities range from a small computational cluster of two or three machines in a single university department; to groups of clusters connected together in such a way as to form computing grids and finally to a smaller but still vital network of supercomputers ranked at national and global levels. Grid applications form the vital glue that holds together access to instruments computing power and storage resources in such a way as to enable first dozens and then hundreds of smaller more specialized researchers to access the shared network computational and storage facilities needed to do their own specialized research.

These grids –- described in Chapters 5 through 9 — are organized through various national and transnational grid projects. This resulting optical network infrastructure is making possible entirely new approaches to what is known as fourth paradigm or data-intensive science. “Toolsets” often referred to as e-science– are being developed to be applied by researchers within their respective grid infrastructures to make massive data extraction and manipulation with respect to the scientific discipline at hand possible in ways that could never before be attempted. Right now the grids require a considerable amount of intercession by researchers who are skilled at both in the specific discipline and in the networking and computational aspects needed to apply high-performance computing tools to the discipline.

Most researchers access this global optical infrastructure via their national collaboration infrastructure to gain access to the network and to the appropriate tools. They form a range of “virtual organizations.” The result might range from creating of a small group of a half-dozen or dozen researchers to an existing international group numbering in the thousands. For example, consider the high-energy physicists involved in Large Hadron Collider Private Optical Network, a virtual organization making up a global grid.

In every case efforts are underway to make the connection of researchers to the network tools as seamless as possible with the analogy that it be rather like transitioning from the early disk operating system to them much more user-friendly Macintosh OS X graphical user interface. The ultimate idea is that the scientist needs to know little, indeed almost nothing about the network tools underneath that make possible research approaches such as climate modeling at a level of detail that could only have been dreamt about a few years ago.

Chapters 10 through 15 are discipline-specific case studies of grid-based scientific networks. The topics range from genomics in molecular biology to bird migration studies. Chapter 13 covers the humanities and social sciences in the UK. Chapter 14 explains the Global LHC Grid. Meanwhile, Chapter 12 relates to Brian Hanley’s experience in microbiology at the University of California Davis. (This link takes you to a May 20, 2011 Washington Post article on problems faced by recent American microbiology Ph.D’s. It also references KAUST University in Saudi Arabia having a $10 billion endowment. What it does not mention is that Tom De Fanti (one of the top 5 people in the world of Fast Thinking) has a contract with KAUST. As a result of using a ten g-bit optical link to KAUST, a professor at UCSD can demonstrate totally immersive protein folding in real-time to students in Saudi Arabia. Chapter 16 describes an interview with the new CEO of Internet2 focusing on Internet2’s role building the USUCAN network.

Part II The Global High End Infrastructure in the United States has an Opportunity to be Extended to US Community Anchor Institutions

In contrast to my earlier work Building a National Knowledge Infrastructure, Fast Thinking summarizes what is being done in the United States as well as elsewhere in the world. It provides a over view of the late 2010 awards to Internet2 and to the middle mile networks of many states that for the first time will extend the benefits of these optical collaborative networks outwards to Community Anchor Institutions in the United States. These institutions are being defined as schools, libraries, hospitals, public safety, museums, performing arts organizations and the like. This is a major step in the right direction. However, since it has never been attempted in this country before, it need will need a great deal of inclusive effort that Internet 2 is not well equipped to provide.

What is most significant is that scarcity model of bandwidth has the potential to vanish in this new world in which the high end, university-based center could transfer its technology to the local economies via circulatory system of US UCAN.

I have covered the organization known as the GLIF [Global Lambda Integrated Facility] in great detail because the GLIF is both a skillfully constructed federation of interests that makes it possible for independent national networks to develop so as to inter-operate with each other as completely as possible. The mutually-agreed-on goal of the resulting virtual organization is that the participants can cooperatively shape and then use a rapidly spreading global system of interoperable lightpaths. These networks are creating an infrastructure that will enhance the ability of members to communicate, cooperate, and assist each other other not only in their research but also to do this in difficult political and economic circumstances.

I show in some detail how these new systems will work. Federated mechanisms of identity management will connect ultimately millions of users with software and tools that they are authorized to use. They will be enabled to set up and tear down globally based virtual organizations to accomplish their agreed-upon tasks.

Building a Community of Interest between the High End and Grass Roots Edge

As a more ambitious goal, I am seeking to establish whether or not there can be a community-of-interest between the high-end research groups and a rapidly growing grassroots “edge”. These are efforts of small communities of mostly younger people located currently at the edges of twentieth century, large, corporate-based society. The viability of this worn out corporatist center is being challenged by Deloitte’s Center for the Study of the Edge that finds a 65% decline in Return on Equity of the nation’s largest publicly owned corporations since 1965 and by Douglass Rushkoff in Life Inc. How Corporatism Conquered the World. Umair Haque in his The New Capitalist Manefesto points out that corporations need to create “thick value” and Chris Hedges in his 2009 Empire of Illusion shows how corporatism is transforming the middle class in the US into a class of serfs. I begin this discussion with my Preface and Chapter 1 where I explore the undermining of the political and social infrastructure of the United States, Europe and most of the developed world by largely corrupt financial elites.

To do this I use the analysis of John Robb and his blog Global Guerrillas, as well as the broad community-of-thought represented by Michel Bauwens in his Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives, which seeks to organize a globally-based effort on behalf of the open-source knowledge-commons. Increased awareness of the impact of these new technologies has spread in such a way as to place the future locus of economic and political sustainability within local communities rather than where they are currently located namely in the capitals of what Robb calls the “hollowed-out nation states.”

These are states where the political classes have given in to the interests of globally based corporations and a global banking system. Both banking and corporate and military-industrial sectors — One need only read Chalmers Johnsons’ last four books on the military — exist to increase the wealth of their executives and shareholders at the expense of the society on which they depend. The banks, by capturing the political system within the boundaries of each state, have, with the collapse they brought about in 2008, made it no longer possible to maintain the economic and social safety-net by which their respective governments have established their legitimacy among their respective peoples. It seems likely that the enormous debt buildup within these states will lead to breakdowns of their central authority and may leave the world fragmented in such a way that long-term sustainability may be found only in what many thinkers are beginning to call “resilient communities.”

Such local communities may well come to depend on what they can provide, build, and provision for their own members. It is here that I suggest that a confluence of interest may exist between the university-based researchers and their high-end networks and what programs such as the United States Unified Community Anchor Institution Network will offer locally on a much more widespread basis. Will the offering be a foundation for schools, libraries and local civic institutions that can move local self-reliance away from the increasingly bankrupt and hierarchical, political, and corporate sectors into the hands of local communities having their own self-interests at heart? This seems to me to be the most critical question we face going forward.

The critical question: can the edge-based low-end and university-based higher-end can establish a mutually beneficial dialogue whereby the people can work with each other to build a more humane and sustainable civilization?

As Kevin Carson – author of The Home Brew Industrial Revolution asked me: “Might we have the means for establishing a society where exchange of CAD/CAM files, teleconferencing, etc., replaces most of the physical movement of goods and people?” Kevin continued “In general, I think most of the solution will be automatic, as this is a sort of perfect storm given the crisis conditions of capitalism. People are becoming underemployed and being thrown back on the informal economy, looking for means of self-provisioning through networking with their neighbors, etc, at the very same time that we’re experiencing a singularity in the possibilities of low-cost small-scale production technology. So networked local micro-manufacturing economies will emerge from this “time of troubles” because it’s the only solution possible given the tools at hand.”

See the scribd version of the summary here:

Contents of Fast Thinking

(To receive the URL for downloading the entire book,(twenty dollars US via paypal) fill out the request here)

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