U leaders

David Hyland

For University professor Ernie Retzel, gridlock applies more to his computer-aided research than to his morning commute from St. Paul.
“I have to compete with World Wide Web traffic, image uploads and in the afternoon things become very slow,” said Retzel.
And for good reason:
ùThe Internet faces traffic growth of up to 10-fold per year;
ùThere are 51 million Internet users in the United States and Canada alone;
ùAbout 30 million Web addresses now exist, up from 1.5 million in 1993.
But for Retzel, interim director of academic computing and bioinformetics at the Academic Health Center, a solution could be on its way.
To alleviate Internet overcrowding, the University, in cooperation with other schools, is well into planning the construction of Internet 2. The new network, which would be reserved strictly for research purposes, would allow universities and researchers to move large amounts of data quickly and reliably. However, besides easier collaboration between scientists, the project promises to revolutionize Internet computer technology.
Three meetings, one in Washington, D.C., will take place this week to continue planning efforts.
Don Riley, University associate vice president and chief information officer, said Internet 2 is not so much a separate network as it is an upgrade of the old Internet. It’s similar to how the Internet grew out of its predecessors, the ARPAnet and NSFnet.
In the early to mid-1980s, the original Internet and its predecessors were created and operated under direct government control. In 1992, it was commercialized.
“The goal is to push the next generation of capabilities,” Riley said.
At the University, Riley is supervising the project’s construction. It includes improving the University’s network connections at an estimated cost of $2.5 million over two years. But while some teams set up the connections, others are developing the computer applications.
Retzel and computer science professor David Du have been generating specialized applications to run over Internet 2’s high-speed network, from moving images to lecturing to remote sites.
As one of the leaders, the University is establishing the network connections but that has not come without a price. Many of the other universities are dragging behind in the process.
“We have the capacity, but we have to have someone to talk to,” Retzel said.
As a result, the University’s project leaders aid other institutions in advancing their programs, as well as lowering the network requirements to establish working connections.
To enhance cooperation between the more than 122 universities involved, the member schools established an umbrella organization: the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development. The nonprofit corporation, which the universities started October 1996, was organized after President Clinton unveiled his “Next Generation Internet Initiative.”
Instead of directing the construction, the corporation affords leeway between participants to enhance collaboration and idea-sharing, said Tom Barron, manager of the network design group for the University’s Network and Telecommunications Services. Barron is heading up the formation of the technical aspects of Internet 2.
Member universities have pledged more than $50 million combined per year for the project.
Greg Wood, communications director for the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development, said the project has run up a more than $70 million price tag thus far.
Ten corporate sponsors, such as IBM and MCI, also have promised to sponsor the program. The government is expected to kick in additional funds through grants from the National Science Foundation.
Project leaders anticipate private industry will play a greater role in the growth of the project, in both increasing speed and revenue. To date, private companies have pledged $20 million over the life of the construction process.
“I think it would be a huge addition,” Retzel said. “They will help drive the process.”
Barron said he believes the potential benefits exist but stresses the importance of Internet 2’s original impetus.
“This network is not built in order to enable private corporations to talk to other private corporations,” he said. “But where there are clear convergence of interests, it can happen.”
By the end of the year, the project leaders expect all members to maintain stable Internet 2 connections. They also hope that the universities will establish regional connections among themselves.
Eventually, Wood said he believes the technologies spawned from Internet 2 will be incorporated into the original Internet.
“We will expect to see things … that are being developed now will be used by folks in general in about five years,” Wood said. “Even less than five years.”