Internet2 links University to high-speed cyberspace

by Juliette Crane

Imagine stepping into a box the size of a small bedroom and being surrounded by video screens on every wall, including the floor and ceiling.
With Internet2, scientists and researchers can use this form of tele-immersion, known as The Cave, to share their experiences and information from one virtual environment to another.
Sharing vast amounts of information between universities is one of the key applications of Internet2, a not-for-profit consortium that emerged in 1996 to test and develop advanced applications that won’t work on today’s Internet, said Greg Wood, an Internet2 spokesman.
In addition to developing a faster Web or e-mail connection, Internet2 and its members are developing new technologies to introduce new applications such as digital libraries, distance-independent learning, virtual laboratories, tele-immersion and video conferencing.
Thanks to high-performance applications developed on Internet2, a student can learn to play the violin from a teacher on the other side of the continent. Live video can be transferred in real time, without the “herky-jerky stream and mono audio response” usually expected from the commercial Internet, according to the on-line magazine Planet IT.
Researchers are currently using the connection to observe the skies from different parts of the globe, without spending the money and time it would normally take to see the telescopic views in person.
The video is also available to students, who “can look in as scientists are making the observations and see things they would normally have to wait to hear about from their professors,” Wood said.
These advanced technologies are made possible by the actual network that supports Internet2. Operating at warp speed, the network can send information 45,000 times faster than the typical modem, Planet IT reported.
Normally users run into heavy, random traffic on the Internet, resulting in a much slower transfer of information. This problem will be eased by Internet2, which is only available to students, faculty and staff at Internet2 universities. Connections are not interrupted by outside traffic.
Students at the University are already sending information out across Internet2 lines without even knowing it.
The University received a grant in 1996 from the National Science Foundation to establish the high performance connection, and currently runs the Internet2 regional network.
Whenever a message goes out from the University network to another Internet2 University, it travels across Internet2 lines.
One of the primary objectives of the Internet2 project, however, is to share this technology with the commercial Internet, making these advanced applications available outside of the University system.
Internet2 is meant “to foster the next generation applications that will take the Internet to the next level,” said David Farmer, network design engineer for the Office of Information Technology at the University.
These advanced applications are tested on Internet2 before they go out onto the commercial Internet, Wood said. More than 175 universities and 60 leading corporations are working with the government to develop these new technologies, contributing roughly $90 million a year to the project.
The University also encourages students to get involved with the advancement of the program.
Farmer said Internet2 is there for students, as well as for the faculty, to develop their own projects and research.
“It is an infrastructure. Like an electronic microscope, it is there for whatever the researcher wants.”

Juliette Crane covers technology and welcomes comments at [email protected]