The Access Grid™ and Video Conferencing


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The Access Grid™ and Video Conferencing

  1. 1. The Access Grid™ and Video Conferencing The Access Grid™ The Access Grid™ (AG) is a tool for group-to-group collaboration across worldwide high-performance networks (e.g. IVEC + AARNet). The AG is an ensemble of resources including multimedia large-format displays, presentation and interactive environments, and interfaces to Grid middleware and to visualization environments. The AG technology was developed in the USA by the Futures Laboratory at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and is deployed by the NCSA PACI Alliance. Australian researchers are now active contributors. An individual site connected to the AG is generally known as a node. The AG is now used at over 150 institutions worldwide, located in 26 countries. The AG community is continually growing, with software becoming easier to configure and hardware cheaper to obtain. The list of registered nodes can be found at: Because inclusion on this list is voluntary, it only gives an indication as to the total number of installed nodes. AG events are held via Virtual Venues (pre-designated Internet IP addresses and ports) to which participating AG nodes login using the AG Client software that is pre-installed on the individual site’s AG computer(s). A list of institutions providing venues can be found at: To help with the scheduling of meetings, some Venues (i.e. ANL and NCSA) can be booked via their respective website-based scheduler. Example of an AG node in operation – ©Copyright AARNet Pty Ltd The AG can be described as a software application with accompanying hardware that connects remote, geographically distant sites through a high bandwidth network. Participants hear and see one another in real time over the AG for the purpose of scientific collaboration, education, training, and professional communication at all levels. The AG is used for impromptu get- togethers, large formal meetings, collaborative work sessions, seminars, lectures, tutorials and training. It has been used to support conferences such as SC Global 2001, the Alliance Chautauqua series held in 1999 and 2000, and Graphite 2004 in Singapore. Although it does not eliminate travel, the AG can reduce the need for travel while significantly increasing the level of collaboration. Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 1 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  2. 2. Access Grid vs Video Conferencing The Access Grid™ (AG) and commercial Video Conferencing (VC) systems are essentially aimed at providing the same end result: ‘virtual meetings’ where groups of people come together and collaborate without having to travel to a single common location. A comparison of the two systems is somewhat dependant on the time in the development cycle that the assessment is made. Video and audio quality can be better with AG than VC but that is dependant on the quality of the components used. Also, a certain amount of leapfrogging goes on as one system overtakes the other for quality. AG software is OpenSource, therefore free, and the hardware is commodity-ware; whereas VC software and hardware is proprietary. The AG is designed for group-to-group collaboration (not person-to-person) with multiple camera views of each site/room being transmitted selectively and concurrently. The number of sites that can participate in an AG ‘meeting’ is effectively unlimited (even with multiple room views) and requires no additional overhead. Participants at an AG node can observe all the video transmissions going out from their site as well as those coming in from the other sites. Video display selection made independently at each AG node Access Grid Virtual Venue Video feeds from participating AG nodes Schematic of Access Grid connectivity and display configuration Conversely, with VC systems the number of connected sites is often limited to one-to-one without the use of a Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) Bridge, which is an expensive piece of hardware. On the minus side, many networks do not (and may even be unwilling to) support multicast needed for AG. However, the Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 2 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  3. 3. AARNet and GrangeNet networks do support multicast within Australia and to peer networks overseas. The AG is solely network/Internet based whereas VC can be delivered over a network or ISDN lines. Pre-configured video display transmitted to all participants Video Conference provider and Video feeds from MCU participating VC sites Schematic of Video Conference connectivity and display configuration Being PC (Linux or Windows) based, the AG allows digital data and shared applications to be used to share additional information with other participants, beyond just video images. VC currently has limited ability to present additional data especially without expenditure on proprietary tools. The setup of the AG video display system means that greater display ‘real estate’ is available. This is possible because the AG software can make use of more than one video output source. These video display sources can come from multiple PCs (each with a graphics card) and/or a single PC with a multi- channel video graphics card. For ease of viewing, the typical configuration consists of three display outputs projected side-by-side on to a large wall (or screen). This gives a large format display image that is three times the width of a single screen image. The individual content windows (i.e. video feeds from other sites) can be individually sized, placed anywhere on the display screens or even hidden, as desired. AG multi-group, multi-view display – ©Copyright AARNet Pty Ltd Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 3 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  4. 4. Close-up of AG multi-group, multi-view display – ©Copyright AARNet Pty Ltd The AG servers run 24/7 so, once installed, an AG node can be used at any time of day or night and does not need any prior booking with a ‘Telco’ to establish connectivity. A VC event is usually an explicit cost paid to the ‘Telco’ on each and every occasion, with exact costs being dependant on the length of conference and if a MCU bridge is required. The cost of an AG node ranges from $100 (the cost of a webcam and headphones added to an existing PC), through $25,000 for a mid-size room to $70,000 for a large installation. The price for a professional video conferencing system (e.g. PictureTel, Polycom) in Australia is typically $5,000 - $10,000 (but can go much higher) with running costs of ~$50 per hour. They usually require dedicated lines (e.g. ISDN or similar). ISDN line call rates for national and international linked sites are about $100/hour and $300/hour, respectively. In most cases an AG session is effectively free to operate at the department level. This is because the cost of providing the necessary multicast Internet/network connection is carried at the Institutional level as part of the external network subscription that is already in place (e.g. AARNet or GrangeNet); and it is not dependant on duration of use. For example, the IVEC network already has access to the AARNet multicast capability and GrangeNet access can be added for an annual subscription of $5,000. An AG node does need IT support (at the very least someone with enough knowledge to operate it) but possibly no more than required for a VC event. Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 4 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  5. 5. Summary of features Access Grid™ Video Conference Research tool developed at Argonne Commercial product. National Laboratories. Uses Open Source VIC and RAT Hardware-based audio / video coding. coding for video and audio. An ensemble of commodity hardware Proprietary video conferencing and open source software which software and hardware for audio and supports the capture and display of video, e.g. Polycom VSX 7000 $5300. many video streams. Pretty good penetration worldwide – Very good penetration worldwide – mainly in research institutions. good business acceptance. Extends the traditional video Traditional video conferencing model conferencing model from a single of single camera views or pre- view of a site to multiple views from configured tiled view, arrangement of many sites, with the flexibility for each both is dictated by the VC/MCU site to choose which views are seen hardware and software. Less user and in what size and order on screen. choice. Suitable for one-to-one and multiple Suitable for one-to-one and multiple groups meeting and conference groups (with MCU) meeting. participation. Differs from existing video Unicast, point-to-point tool – needs conferencing systems by operating additional infrastructure (i.e. MCU over a multicast network instead of bridge) for multipoint. Can use a requiring an MCU to mix audio and Bureau Service to save on MCU video streams. purchase. $25,000 to $70,000 for a room setup. $5,000 to $70,000 (or even more) to But a personal node (headphones + setup. But some point-to-point webcam) on an existing PC/Laptop desktop starter kits for $2000. Can can be done for ~$100. Software and require cost for MCU (~$30,000), use of Virtual (meeting) Venues is installation of the ISDN lines and the free. Network requirements are on-going line rental as well as the usually already in place at Institutional initial purchase of the H.320 level and multicasting via AARNet equipment or network switches and and/or GrangeNet. routers. Expensive to use, e.g. ISDN call rates Inexpensive to use – effectively free UK to Australia from $400/hr to at Institution department level A$1300/hr. Australian call rates $100/hr (local) to $300/hr (overseas) Becoming easier to set up and use – Easy to setup – usually pay extra for plenty of free help and support support Expensive to administer (becoming Easy to use less so) Dedicated room – but personal node Mobile – but often dedicated room. on laptop offers mobility. NB. This summary has been compiled from various sources and represents information and opinions published at different points in time and from different standpoints. Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 5 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  6. 6. Overview for Decision Makers Tutorial developed and © by Access Grid User Documentation Project: (also refer to separate 2-page Tutorial supplement fact-sheet: supplement.pdf) Objectives This tutorial provides the information needed to determine the benefits of establishing an Access Grid Node at your organization and the resources you will need to set up and operate it. Be part of the future In the 1980s, corporate executives didn't think of the Internet as an essential business tool. In just 10 years, the World Wide Web turned the Internet into an essential communication tool and a main way to conduct business. Just as the Web changed the way we interact in the 1990s, the Access Grid will be a vital part of the next generation of communications technologies. By establishing an Access Grid at your organization, you can become a link in its growing chain of worldwide science, engineering, and education users. What is it? The Access Grid is a suite of hardware and software that supports multiple group-to-group communications via high-speed networking. It provides high quality audio and real time video for interactive experiences for users at multiple sites. All the hardware is off the shelf and readily available at a reasonable cost, so that your organization can successfully set up its own Access Grid site, called a Node -- one point on a large mesh of institutional users. Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) developed the Access Grid concept. Other scientific organizations are part of its growing research and development group. Target Audience Those individuals who are interested in the bottom-line issues of the Access Grid and/or those individuals who make the final decisions. Topics Advantages to Your Organization Overview of Setting up an Access Grid Node Access Grid Resource Commitments Advantages to Your Organization • Here you'll find how your organization can: • Substantially Reduce Travel • Gain Access to Scientific Creativity • Join a Growing Community • Enable Remote Group Interactions Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 6 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  7. 7. • Participate in a Wealth of Remote Events • Benefit from the Access Grid’s Advantages over Commercially Available Systems • Get Free Support for Your Access Grid Node from Experts Substantially Reduce Travel Hold regular meetings nationally or worldwide without leaving your office. The Access Grid brings people face-to-face electronically, reducing the need for travel. This not only saves time and money, but also reduces stress associated with travel. 3-D collaboration over the Access Grid and the Immersadesk™ Gain Access to Scientific Creativity Your researchers can have real-time access to a worldwide community of researchers who collaborate over the Access Grid, both within your organization and at respected universities, government laboratories, and in industry. Join a Growing Community Your staff can join the expanding community of scientists, engineers, educators, and managers who are developing and utilizing the communications infrastructure of the 21st century. Class over the Access Grid from the Ohio Supercomputer Centre Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 7 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  8. 8. Enable Remote Group Interactions The Access Grid can conveniently host live, travel-free group interactions, such as: • Small, informal meetings that a manager calls rapidly • Large meetings planned in advance • Training sessions, seminars, and classes • Project and program reviews with your funding agencies and branch units • Medium-to-large conferences, such as the one shown below Participate in a Wealth of Remote Events Your organization will have access to public educational and scientific events broadcast over the Access Grid from other institutions, including Argonne National Laboratory, Boston University, National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), University of Kentucky, University of New Mexico, and North Dakota State University. There are a multitude of sites. See for a growing list of sites. A "Gallery on the Grid" event hosted by Boston University. The piece "Tracer" by Deborah and Richard Cornell, is a luminous environment where the gestures of language, art, and nature meet and are transformed by remote participants. Benefit from the Access Grid’s Advantages over Commercially Available Systems The Access Grid has marked advantages over today's commercially available videoconferencing systems. • Scientists and engineers at multiple sites can simultaneously share scientific instruments, conduct experiments, and manipulate the same data sets and visual simulations across the Web, while talking back and forth. • The Access Grid supports multicast, a highly-scalable networking model. • Because of its separate, high-speed networking streams, Access Grid video is smooth and lacks the jerky motion or slow scan rate of many videoconferencing systems. • Access Grid audio quality is high, letting multiple participants in large and small meetings to be heard among all attendees. Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 8 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  9. 9. • The Access Grid screen display is the size of a wall--not a small computer monitor. Local and remote participants in an Access Grid event can simultaneously view each other, PowerPoint slides, scientific simulations, and other visuals. • Your Access Grid Node can be available whenever scientists, engineers, and others in your organization need it--24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Audiences from AHPCC, Boston University, CINECA, Dartmouth, NCAR, NCSA, OSC, PSC, SDSC, University of Kansas, University of Kentucky, and University of Manchester participate in HPC workshop led by Troy Baer from OSC. Get Free Support for your Access Grid Node from Experts • Access Grid developers at Argonne National Laboratory and their National Computational Science Alliance colleagues created tutorials for various levels of interest in the technology. These are continually maintained and updated. More are planned. • Online support is provided for new and continuing users. The goal is to have your staff become proficient in this developing technology. Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 9 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  10. 10. Overview of Setting up an Access Grid Node Some organizations have chosen to purchase their AG nodes from a Value Added Reseller, which may simplify procurement and installation issues. Here you will find a summary of the necessary actions for Setting-up an Access Grid Node. An Access Grid Node operator monitors a session Action Brief Description Ensure adequate A multicast enabled 100bT connection to the node hardware is networking required and at least DS3 bandwidth to the Internet from the node is strongly recommended. Set aside physical When selecting the room for your AG, consider how you will space in your office use it. Another room consideration involves the ability to place location the AG equipment so that it is as unobtrusive as possible. Assign staff Staff are needed for facility preparation and set-up, hardware and software installation and maintenance, and event production. For staff estimates, see Access Grid Resource Commitments in this tutorial. Obtain necessary ~ $50,000 to cover the cost of equipment for one Node funds Order and Install Access Grid node overview: Equipment • Four cameras • Three or more projectors • Display wall • Four consumer-grade computers • Audio speakers (2 minimum) • Sufficient number of Microphones (~4) • Keyboard/video/monitor switch • Gentner™ device, an echo cancellation device • Matchmaker device • Two telephone lines • Sufficient electrical outlets for your configuration • Chairs and tables, as needed Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 10 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  11. 11. Access Grid Resource Commitments Below are 3 tables that provide a summary of estimated resource commitments for preparing, building, operating and producing events with an Access Grid Node at your site. The first table shows resource commitments for one time costs, the second for recurring costs, and the third for event costs. One Time Costs Staffing Senior Technical variable time arranging networking; variable time preparing the Staff Access Node room 1 FTE week to purchase Node equipment; 1 FTE week to build Technical Staff Node equipment Non-technical variable time preparing Access Grid Node room Staff Purchase and build Node equipment (mostly non-proprietary, commodity equip) Prepare room • Install projectors • Build display wall • Install lighting • Install 2 phone lines • Purchase furniture Arrange networking 1. Last Mile + 2. Connection to high-speed net (costs vary based on Node location: rural vs. populated vs. international) Software (mostly free) Recurring Costs Staffing Senior variable time supporting network Technical Staff Technical Staff ~2 FTE days/month maintaining & updating equipment Non-Technical ~1 FTE day/month scheduling & maintaining room Staff Networking support Access to high-speed network General room overhead expenses Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 11 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  12. 12. Per Event Costs Informal Events Staffing Technical Staff 1 FTE/hour operating node Formal Events Staffing - Additional staff may be needed for elaborate events Technical Staff 1 FTE/hour operating Access Grid Node Non-Technical Staff: 1-2 FTE/hour AV operations, 0.2 FTE/hour catering services, 1 FTE/hour clerical support Public channel teleconference, if required Catering, if required Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 12 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE
  13. 13. Registered AGs in Australia (as listed at AARNet - Australian Academic and Research Network Australian National University Central Queensland University (Gladstone) Central Queensland University (Rockhampton) Griffith University - Nathan Campus James Cook University Queensland University of Technology Smart Internet Technology CRC University of Adelaide University of Queensland University of Southern Queensland University of Sydney - Sydney Vislab University of Technology, Sydney University of Western Australia UWA Interactive Virtual Environments Centre Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing Prepared by: Dr AP Squelch - iVEC@Central 13 9/11/2004 ©Central TAFE