November 18, 1999
Now coming to a desktop near you-Internet2. If all goes according to plans, Tulane will be linked to the blockbuster sequel to the original Internet later this month. Yet while this new network portends the transmission of information at far greater speeds than most users of the World Wide Web are accustomed to, its awesome power has been rated R-for research only.
"There may be some perception that Internet2 is simply a bigger, faster version of the commercial Internet," says Tim Deeves, director of networking services who has worked on the project for the last three years. "It is not. If you are checking your stocks or The New York Times, Internet2 will not help. It's strictly a link between Internet2 universities and other research networks."
Internet2 is a consortium of 160 American universities as well as some corporate and government participants. Information will travel to the Internet2 network at the rate of 155 megabits-per-second, as opposed to the current rate of 10 megabits-per-second to the commercial Internet.
Once the information is on the "Internet2 backbone," said Deeves, it travels at 622 megabits-per-second. According to Deeves, Internet2 will be "transparent" to Tulane users. "Anybody on campus can use Internet2," he says. "We will have routers that will decide how information will be sent. If you are going to a commercial site, then the router will send that information over the commercial Internet. If you are sending information to another member of Internet2, then you will be routed that way."
Although customers of amazon.com will not benefit from the new network, researchers most certainly will. Rich Hart, chair of the biomedical engineering department, is eagerly anticipating the Internet2 connection to the supercomputer at the National Computation Science Alliance (NCSA), one of only three federally funded supercomputing facilities in the country.
Hart's own work examining the response of bone tissue to stress and investigating fluid pressure within the eye relies on complex computer simulations that can be run on a small scale on computers located in the Boggs Center. More complex simulations require crunching at NCSA.
"Internet2 means that we will be able to do those sophisticated simulations more efficiently," says Hart, who adds that the inability of the commercial Internet to transmit large amounts of information forces him to ship data back and forth to NCSA. "Hopefully we will now be able to preprocess data and then look at the results all on Internet2."
Hart is among five Tulane faculty who collaborated on a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that supports high-speed networking. Other faculty involved in the grant include Lisa Fauci and Peter Moore, associate professors of mathematics; James Maclaren, assistant professor of physics; and Bruce Bowdish, an instructor at the medical center.
The principal investigators for the grant are Hart and Jed Diem, vice president for information systems, who believes it is imperative for Tulane to join the Internet2 consortium.
"Most of the universities in the consortium are Carnegie Research I universities," says Diem, "and Tulane researchers need to be able to communicate and collaborate with researchers at these institutions."
According to Diem, the NSF grant was originally awarded under the auspices of the agency's High Performance Connections Program to develop the vBNS (very high speed bandwidth network services).
"In order to use this vBNS network," says Diem, "you have to be authorized by the NSF, and in order to be authorized you have to demonstrate what NSF calls 'meritorious applications,' a need to use it. This is where the research by Hart and his faculty colleagues came in."
The grant, which was awarded to Tulane in October 1998, covered the cost to connect to a new, high-performance network. Soon after Tulane received the grant, however, an interesting thing happened: the Internet2 consortium announced its Project Abilene, a different high-speed network that largely involved the same institutions.
"There was a lot of confusion at first," says Diem. "Could NSF money given to fund vBNS connections be used to fund a Project Abilene connection?" After more than a half-year of negotiations, the two projects agreed to do "peering," an exchange of network traffic.
"If you are on one network, then you are on the other," says Diem. The agreement was an important one for Tulane, says Diem, because it will allow the university to uplink to the highspeed networks through Project Abilene's carrier, Qwest, which will be a less expensive alternative to using the vBNS carrier, MCI.
According to Diem, the Tulane campus is ready to be linked to Internet2, as soon as the Qwest lines are laid to New Orleans. "We are pretty well finished with our preparation for connecting the campus to Internet2," said Diem, "and that connection will take place in September." (Inside Tulane, 8/99)
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