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  April 4, 2000

Access to Internet2 Heralds
New Possibilities for UConn Researchers

Planning your next research project? Have you planned on Internet2?

For the past two years, Internet2 has been talked about in the future tense. But now, says Robert Vietzke, manager of video communications and leader of UConn's Internet2 project, it is poised on the edge of reality. And it's time for UConn faculty and staff to find out just what it means for their future.

Internet2 is the second-generation Internet tool through which universities, government agencies and industry will be able to collaborate on research and education in the future.

High-Performance Alternative
An alternative to the increasingly congested commercial sprawl that Internet1 has become, Internet2 aspires to be the metaphor originally ascribed to its antecedent - a true "information superhighway." Wide lanes and no speed limit are its hallmarks.

Powered by the dramatically greater bandwidth necessary to rapidly transmit information - in the massive volumes often required for research and educational purposes - it is expected to revolutionize the way academic institutions function.

And it is so close to being ready to use, that Vietzke says a series of seminars to introduce the new service to faculty are planned for later this year. "The high performance backbone that drives Internet2 is in place," he says. "UConn has been connected since last October, and every user on campus can, in fact, take advantage of it today."

To illustrate the implications of that announcement, Vietzke calls up an example of the kind of collaboration between universities the new Internet makes possible. A team at the University of California-Berkeley has been working closely with another at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

Employing Internet2, they have successfully transmitted studio quality high definition television images instantaneously from one school to the other at the astounding rate of 450 megabits per second, a rate approximately 1,000 times greater than the typical Internet1 modem can manage.

The Berkeley/Washington collaboration is just one example. In addition to UConn, some 150 other Research I academic institutions in the United States are currently onboard. The pipeline through which Internet2 information will travel at breathtaking speed also links them to government agencies, such as the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, and major corporations, such as MicroSoft and IBM, that are involved in project's development.

Worldwide, similar collaborations have been simultaneously developing similar connections, wiring the world so that Internet2 will come alive practically everywhere at once.

"The goal of Internet2 is to provide the high performance backbone needed for the next generation of research," says Vietzke. "It's designed to enable research independent of constraints. The bandwidth is very large to begin with and it will always grow, in order to be in excess of need."

Vietzke anticipates the utility of Internet2 will expand rapidly, as more and more schools become linked. Using as a yardstick the degree to which Internet1 has penetrated the consumer market in a very short time, he predicts a comparable degree of Internet2 penetration into academia within a year.

Looking for the Return
"The University of Connecticut has made a major investment in Internet2," says Paul Kobulnicky, UConn's vice chancellor for information services. "We're anxious to see that investment returned, both in the enhanced teaching and research promised by Internet2 and in improved research funding."

One of the reasons why the new Internet is expensive for UConn and the other Research I schools is the cost of equipment needed to ensure appropriate links. Although Internet2 is dedicated to delivering a high level quality of service, the service is only accessible if participants can get on the highway. Another way to think of it is to envision the completed highway: It's wider and of better quality than any other highway in existence. But without good entrance and exit ramps, it's useless.

Those entrance and exit ramps - high powered and expensive routing equipment - will define a university's ability to use Internet2 effectively. "We need to remain heavily involved in its development," says Kobulnicky. "One of the most important reasons is that the government will look more favorably on universities that are Internet2-capable in approving funding for research projects down the road. For this reason alone, it's important for our faculty to understand what Internet2 offers and to design projects that involve the kind of collaboration Internet2 was developed to expedite."

"Internet2 is not just a faster pipeline," says Peter Luh, a professor of electrical and systems engineering and director of UConn's Booth Center for Computer Applications and Research. "It's very important for us to think not only about the kinds of research that can be done, but also about how it will be done.

"A few years ago, no one would have thought about or Priceline as information options if they'd been asked to explain how Internet1 enhances research. The new Internet companies have effectively changed the way consumers can do Internet research for the things they need. We need to think about similar implications for Internet2. It's not just a matter of getting on line. We need to take a leadership role in defining how we can make the best use of this technology in order to collaborate with other institutions."

A good example is the research being done by Dong-Guk Shin, an associate professor of computer science and engineering. He has been

exploring ways to simplify the process through which laboratories in remote locations share data for a project on which they are collaborating.

While Internet2 may make it possible for them to move huge amounts of data swiftly, the research process can still be encumbered if recipients cannot easily access the data and compare them with their own. "Internet2 will make things much faster, but it doesn't resolve all of the communications issues that are bound to crop up when you try to communicate quickly around the world," says Shin, one of the seven UConn principal investigators who successfully applied for a two-year National Science Foundation grant of $350,000 to help UConn build its Internet2 connections.

Speed is, perhaps, Internet2's greatest virtue. "Some data sources simply cannot be accommodated by current Internet quality of service," says Michael Young, a professor of educational psychology and another of the seven UConn researchers. Young has researched real-time high-bandwidth connections between UConn's research reources and Connecticut public schools.

"The current Internet simply doesn't make possible things like teachers viewing and reflecting on videotapes of classroom interactions, two-way teleconferencing of K-12 students with university classes, and large-scale or real-time data streams," he says. "Basically, any person-to-person interactions, which remain critical to quality education, are precluded with current bandwidth."

Opening Doors
"When you think about all that Internet2 will allow us to do, it's very exciting," says Richard Gorham, director of UConn's Center for Instructional Media and Technology. "The amount of bandwidth we'll have available will make it possible to share very large databases and we'll be able to do that worldwide and instantaneously. It opens all kinds of pathways for teaching, research and advanced learning."

Vietzke agrees. However it's used, Internet2 will open doors for faculty and students across disciplines, he says. "The technologica l and scientific areas get talked about a lot in connection with Internet2. That's probably because much of the technological and scientific research involves vast amounts of data. But Internet2 offers just as much potential for other academic areas. It will make high quality videoconferencing a real option in the arts. It will make it possible to do videoconferencing in education for inservice teacher training and evaluation. The options are really limitless, and that's why it's essential for all members of the faculty to find out what Internet2 means for them."

Jim Smith