Jan. 8, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 7

current issue
archive / search

    University a leader in paving high-speed path for research

    By Diana Steele
    News Office

    The University is one of the leading institutions in the 112-member higher-education initiative that is developing "Internet2" -- advanced networking and technology that will transform the way people work and interact with computers. Internet2 will be 100 to 1,000 times faster than current Internet technology.

    "The kind of research we do here, particularly in the sciences, is only possible with the advanced networking and bandwidth of the Internet2 network," said Greg Jackson, Associate Provost for Information Technology and a member of the board of trustees for the University Consortium for Advanced Internet Development, which is developing Internet2. "For example, physicists and geologists need access to large data sets, and high-performance networking makes it possible for the scientists to access them without physically traveling to remote locations."

    Other applications include video interaction based on digital networking. "For instance, paleontologist Paul Sereno, who does a lot of outreach in Chicago public schools, could lecture simultaneously -- and interactively -- with students at a dozen different elementary schools, rather than having to take the time to travel to each one in turn.

    "With the advent of advanced Internet technology, traditional walls between locations are beginning to crumble," he said.

    Internet2 isn't for everyone, or for all applications. Regular e-mail and World Wide Web applications will still run on the existing networks. Internet2 will be reserved for applications that need the extra speed or bandwidth, such as the remote control of telescopes.

    Don York, Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, and his colleagues regularly operate a remote-controlled telescope in New Mexico from their desktop computers in Chicago, but often the Internet is unreliable. Because everything has the same priority, if there happens to be a lot of e-mail or other traffic on the network, scientists have to resort to telephoning telescope-pointing commands to an operator on-site. Internet2 would alleviate that problem, which can cost researchers precious time.

    It also will be possible to assign priority to certain applications. For example, if a scientist needs two minutes of high-bandwidth access to the network to download information from a satellite, that time can be "reserved" by assigning a high priority to that use. In the same manner, video conferencing between two or more sites can dedicate a portion of the bandwidth to that application.

    Some of the applications envisioned for Internet2 are already possible for the University and its partners in the Metropolitan Research and Educational Network (MREN): Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab, Northwestern and the University of Illinois-Chicago. These institutions are connected by a high-speed network that is the prototype for how the entire Internet2 network will be designed. Clusters of institutions like MREN -- called "gigapops" -- will be connected to each other initially via the National Science Foundation's very high speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS), and later through other networks. Currently about five gigapops are on-line, including clusters in North Carolina, Massachusetts and California.

    Jackson, formerly the head of the engineering task force for Internet2, said the University's major role is developing and demonstrating the technology that makes these interconnections possible, based on its experience with developing MREN in 1994.

    "MREN is the prototype for regional aggregation," said Jackson. "It's also the hub where many networks from other countries connect to the United States, kind of like the Kennedy airport of the Internet."

    He added that the technology developed by the universities will be transferable to the private sector. "E-mail, on-line security and Web browsers were all university-developed. This kind of technology transfer is a traditional role that universities play."