James Estep and Christopher Lewis, both computer science majors at Shawnee State University, put their knowledge of computers to the test this summer. The Portsmouth residents spent eight weeks at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) in Columbus learning about high performance networking.
"The experience we had this summer is definitely something we would not be able to learn in the classroom," Estep said. "I learned valuable organization and research skills, and a lot about advanced technologies."
Estep and Lewis worked with the Center as part of an undergraduate research internship program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The goal of the program is to give college students field experience in high performance computing and networking that they would not be able to receive in the classroom. Their work supported the Center's NSF Grant, "vBNS Gateway for Ohio via OCARNet and OSC Networking." This project will extend research capabilities of Ohio institutions by providing access to the NSF vBNS, or very High Speed Backbone Network Service, through OCARNet, an ATM research testbed that involves seven Ohio universities.
"The vBNS Gateway for Ohio project moved forward with the help of Chris and James," said Charlie Bender, Center director. "We believe undergraduate students benefit immensely from these types of experiences."
Estep and Lewis learned how to establish an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) network by setting up a lab at the Center that is networked through ATM and then ran performance tests. ATM is the fastest network available and is the advanced technology employed in the NSF vBNS initiative. Their work benefits OCARNet and the Center's networking initiative.
"Setting up the ATM network in the lab was challenging, but we got it done before our deadline," said Lewis said. "For the last two weeks we've been running tests to see how well the network can handle various amounts of data."
Running tests is important to any network in order for it to run smoothly and to prevent data loss. Some future projects on ATM networks in Ohio will involve telemedicine and distance education. If the network is not running properly, valuable patient information and educational materials could be lost.
"Right now our tests are showing us that the network in the lab is running at one half of its ideal," said Lewis. "But, we have come a long way from when we started the tests."
Estep and Lewis entered their internship at OSC with little networking experience and felt overwhelmed at first. They credit Arun Welch, a former employee who is now a consultant for OSC, for helping them figure out what to look for.
"Arun clarified what our mission to test the network involved," Lewis said. "He helped us figure out what was important and helped us learn basic skills that we can use to lay the ground work for any type of network."
Estep and Lewis had an opportunity to run tests on the Center's high performance computers and audited a class in researching parallel networks at The Ohio State University.
They also learned more about their own interests in networking and computing.
"Chris is more interested in the software, running the tests and making sure everything is running smoothly, while I'm more into the hardware," Estep said. "This entails running the fiber and hooking up the computers to the network."
Both Lewis and Estep feel that their experience at OSC will help them with their coursework when they return to Shawnee State for their senior year. It also will assist them when they enter the job market, Lewis said.
"I've never had a job in a professional work environment," he said. "When I start my career, I think this experience with technology will really help with the transition period from the classroom."
The Ohio Supercomputer Center is a state-funded resource serving Ohio's higher education community. The Center facilitates discoveries that enhance Ohio's economic development and supports statewide technological advancement and education. OSC's networking initiative provides Internet access to faculty, staff and students at Ohio's colleges and universities, state government agencies in Ohio and Kentucky, as well as many K-12 schools.