Tapping Internet 2's Potential
by Bethany Faith Daniels
Do you regularly exchange large amounts of data with colleagues? Do you wish you could do lab work from a remote location? Would you like to tell Fed Ex and your travel agent, "thanks, but no thanks"? Well, if you are connected to UC Davis, you can because you no longer have to rely on the Internet as we know it. UC Davis is part of Internet 2, a parallel network created for the sole use of universities and colleges nationwide. Internet 2 provides a much less congested, much more reliable way to conduct electronic communications.
In October, 1996, right around the time that the White House announced the Next Generation Internet initiative, 34 research universities (including UC Davis) met to kick off a new Internet vision: Internet 2. Internet 2 was launched to provide more reliable connections to the "information superhighway" for higher education and set out three main goals:
Today, Internet 2 has over 160 member universities and relies on two network backbones (vBNS and Abilene) to facilitate connections among members. Through these
Internet 2 backbones, researchers can send large files faster than ever before. Scientists can access labs and supercomputers remotely and receive data transmissions in real-time, and professors can simultaneously send video clips to student desktops using multicast technology.
- Develop new research and education applications that cannot be implemented on the commercial Internet.
- Create a communications infrastructure capable of guaranteed and uninterrupted connections.
- Partner with government and private industry to eventually pass on new technologies to the commercial Internet.
The Internet 2 backbone Abilene established coast-to-coast connectivity in January 1999. Regional network connections to Abilene have been developed and implemented over the course of the Internet 2 project.
One of these regional networks, CALREN-2 (California's network), connects all of the University of California campuses, California State Universities (including all community colleges), Stanford University, USC and Cal Tech to the Abilene and vBNS networks. UC Davis is connected to CALREN-2 through UC Berkeley and has a back-up link through University of California Office of the President(UCOP) in Oakland. (See "Main Computer Networks Accessible to UC Davis Users".)
For the past year, CALREN-2 has connected to Abilene and other transit networks in northern California through a distributed set of interconnected routers called gigaPOPs. The southern California connection to Abilene was completed more recently on October 1. One more Southern California link between CALREN-2 and Abilene is slated for the near future.
How does one take advantage of Internet 2?
The good news is all UC Davis users are already connected to Internet 2. The capacity of Internet 2 serves average users well in that it can easily handle the aggregation of users that are connected via 10Base-T or 10 Megabit per second speeds. But Internet 2 can handle much more traffic and it has been designed to handle specialized high-speed research projects. In order for faculty to take advantage of this, it will be necessary for them to have customized higher-speed connections to their desktops. IT-Communications Resources (CR) is available to assist in engineering these customized connections. Additionally, Russ Hobby, Director of IT-Advanced Networking and Scientific Applications, provides consulting services to faculty on their high-speed networking requirements and can assist researchers in formulating their service requests to CR.
What the future holds
Future Internet 2 objectives are to implement Quality of Service (connection guarantees) and to expand regional Internet connectivity. Additional exploration is underway with Information Technology, the College of Engineering, the UC Davis Medical Center and CENIC (Corporation for Education Network Inititatives in California) to determine the viability of a Sacramento Wide Area network (SWAN). According to Doug Hartline, Director of IT-Communications Resources, "SWAN could provide opportunities for very high-speed network research, connections to other high-performance networks, high-end applications such as those found in genomics and telemedicine."
It will be some time before more campus users see the full benefits of the advanced features currently under development for Internet 2, but many can take advantage of the rich bandwidth already afforded by UC Davis' connection to Internet 2. Fed Ex won't mind -- too much.