New Internet Tech 153,000 Times Faster Than Modem

National Geographic News
March 18, 2003
Scientists have developed a new data transfer protocol for the Internet fast enough to download a full-length DVD movie in less than five seconds, the California Institute of Technology said today.

The protocol is called FAST, standing for Fast Active queue management Scalable Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).

The researchers achieved a speed of 8,609 megabits per second (Mbps) by using 10 simultaneous flows of data over routed paths, the largest aggregate throughput ever accomplished in such a configuration, Caltech said in a news release. "That is 153,000 times that of today's modem and close to 6,000 times that of the common standard for ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) connections."

"The FAST protocol sustained this speed using standard packet size, stably over an extended period on shared networks in the presence of background traffic, making it adaptable for deployment on the world's high-speed production networks," Caltech said.

Harvey Newman, a professor of physics at Caltech, said the fast protocol "represents a milestone for science, for grid systems, and for the Internet."

"The ability to extract, transport, analyze and share many Terabyte-scale data collections is at the heart of the process of search and discovery for new scientific knowledge," Newman said.

Les Cottrell of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), which worked with Caltech on the experiment, said that progress in speeding up data transfers over long distances was critical to progress in various scientific endeavors. "These include sciences such as high-energy physics and nuclear physics, astronomy, global weather predictions, biology, seismology, and fusion; and industries such as aerospace, medicine, and media distribution."

"Today, these activities often are forced to share their data using literally truck or plane loads of data," Cottrell said. "Utilizing the network can dramatically reduce the delays and automate today's labor-intensive procedures."

The data was transferred over shared research networks in the presence of background traffic, suggesting that FAST can be backward compatible with the current protocol, Caltech said. The FAST team has started to work with various groups around the world to explore testing and deploying FAST TCP in communities that need multi-Gbps networking urgently.

With Internet speeds doubling roughly annually, the performances demonstrated by the new protocol could become commonly available in the next few years, Caltech said. "So the demonstration is important to set expectations, for planning, and to indicate how to utilize such speeds,"

The testbed used in the Caltech/SLAC experiment was the culmination of a multi-year effort, led by Caltech physicist Harvey Newman's group on behalf of the international high energy and nuclear physics (HENP) community, together with CERN, SLAC, Caltech Center for Advanced Computing Research (CACR), and other organizations.

The experiment was performed last November during the Supercomputing Conference in Baltimore by a team from Caltech and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), working in partnership with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and the organizations DataTAG, StarLight, TeraGrid, Cisco, and Level(3).

The FAST protocol was developed in Caltech's Networking Lab, led by Steven Low, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering. It is based on theoretical work done in collaboration with John Doyle, a professor of control and dynamical systems, electrical engineering, and bioengineering at Caltech, and Fernando Paganini, associate professor of electrical engineering at UCLA. It builds on work from a growing community of theoreticians interested in building a theoretical foundation of the Internet, an effort in which Caltech has been playing a leading role.

© 1996-2008 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.