UNC-Chapel Hill Reimagines The
October 14, 2019
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will lead a $20 million
project to create a platform for testing novel internet architectures
that could enable a faster, more secure internet.
With leadership from researchers at the Renaissance Computing Institute,
UNC-Chapel Hill and its partners will build a platform, called FABRIC,
to provide a testbed for reimagining how data can be stored, computed
and moved through shared infrastructure. FABRIC, funded by the National
Science Foundation, will allow scientists to explore what a new internet
could look like at scale, and help determine the internet architecture
of the future.
A series of government-funded
programs from the 1960s through the 1980s established the computer
networking architectures that formed the basis for today’s internet.
FABRIC will help test out new network designs that could overcome
current bottlenecks and continue to extend the internet’s broad benefits
for science and society. FABRIC will explore the balance between the
amount of information a network maintains, its scalability, performance
“The internet has been a great enabler for many science disciplines and
in people’s everyday lives, but it is showing its age and limitations,
especially when it comes to processing large amounts of data. If
computer scientists were to start over today, knowing what they now
know, the internet might be designed in a different way,” said Ilya
Baldin, director of Network Research & Infrastructure at RENCI, who will
serve as one of five principal investigators on the project.
“FABRIC represents large-scale network infrastructure where the internet
can be reimagined, and a variety of ideas can be tried out and compared.
If FABRIC allows the research community to come up with ideas on how to
reimagine the internet based on a new set of architectural tradeoffs,
then everybody wins – researchers and citizens alike,” said Baldin.
Today’s internet was not designed for the massive data sets, machine
learning tools, advanced sensors and Internet of Things devices that
have become central to many research and business endeavors. FABRIC will
give computer scientists a place to test networking and cybersecurity
solutions that can better capitalize on these tools and potentially
extend the internet’s benefits to people in remote or underserved areas.
“We look forward to FABRIC enabling researchers throughout the nation to
develop and test new networking technologies and capabilities,” said
Erwin Gianchandani, acting assistant director for computer and
information science and engineering at the National Science Foundation.
“This project will lead to novel paradigms for next-generation networks
and services, giving rise to future applications advancing science and
As the project’s lead institution, UNC-Chapel Hill will oversee the
effort while also contributing to software development, supporting
hardware deployment and assisting with outreach efforts.
FABRIC will consist of storage, computational and network hardware nodes
connected by dedicated high-speed optical links. In addition to the
interconnected deeply-programmable core nodes deployed across the
country, FABRIC nodes will include major national research facilities
such as universities, national labs and supercomputing centers that
generate and process enormous scientific data sets. Such a flexible
level of control over the network functions will allow experimenters to
test their new architectures at scale. All major aspects of the FABRIC
infrastructure will be programmable, so researchers can create new
configurations or tailor the platform for specific research purposes,
such as cybersecurity.
“We don’t know what’s the right balance between smarts, or how
self-knowledgeable the internet needs to be, and scalability and
performance,” said Baldin. “What we are offering is an instrument where
these questions can be studied and researchers can make real progress
toward envisioning the internet of the future.”
organizations include the University of Kentucky, the Department of
Energy’s Energy Sciences Network, Clemson University and the Illinois
Institute of Technology. Contributors from the University of Kentucky
and Energy Sciences Network will be instrumental in designing and
deploying the platform’s hardware and developing new software. Clemson
and Illinois Institute of Technology researchers will work with a wide
variety of user communities—including those focused on security,
distributed architectures, scientific applications, and data transfer
protocols—to ensure FABRIC can serve their needs. In addition,
researchers from many other universities will help test the platform and
integrate their computing infrastructure and scientific instruments into
The construction phase of the project is expected to last four years,
with the first year dedicated to software development and finalizing
technical designs and prototyping. Subsequent years will focus on
rolling out the platform’s hardware in participating sites across the
nation and connecting it to major national computing facilities.
Ultimately, experimenter communities will be able to attach new
instruments or hardware resources to FABRIC’s uniquely extensible
design, allowing the infrastructure to grow and adapt to changing
research needs over time.