A Great Leap in High-Speed Data

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

The ATLAS Tier-1 data collection centre at TRIUMF.

In the current age of international collaborations and global connections, quick and accessible data is in high demand. This is especially true for ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS), a particle collision detector and collaboration run by scientists from 38 different countries around the world. TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics and accelerator-based science), has developed groundbreaking digital infrastructure to enable ATLAS to share its data faster, and in higher quantities, than ever before. In 2002, the ATLAS-TRIUMF collaboration broke the land speed record for the greatest volume of data sent over the longest network between two computers.

Following ATLAS’ completion, researchers were faced with the unique challenge of transmitting its vast daily data output to processing centers around the globe (where the data undergoes more thorough analysis). To accomplish this momentous task, the group constructed the first pan-global direct fiber optic system, a high-speed, high-volume transmission network dubbed the ‘ATLAS Lightpath.’

The first ‘light path’ came online in 2002, and required 12,000 kilometers of fiber optic line to connect the ATLAS detector in Switzerland to the Tier-1 data processing center at the TRIUMF campus in Vancouver, B.C. The light path uses dedicated portions of various fibre-optic networks and intersects multiple national and international systems. The world record was broken in September of 2002 when TRIUMF recorded the successful transfer of one terabyte, or one thousand gigabytes, of research data (equivalent to the amount of data on approximately 1500 CDs). Peak transfer rates between ATLAS and TRIUMF can now reach about 1 gigabyte per second, twice the previous known record for this distance!

Profile picture for user TRIUMF

TRIUMF is Canada’s particle accelerator centre. From the hunt for the smallest particles in the universe to the development of new technologies, including next-generation batteries and medical isotopes, TRIUMF is pushing the frontiers in research to advance science, medicine, and business.