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Universities, Industry and Government Develop <i>Internet2</i> - 2001-10-29


When the Internet was developed back in the 1970s by an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, the idea was to connect researchers in various parts of the country. No longer a part of the government, the high tech network is now used by millions of people around the world for research, business, and pleasure. Improvements are underway.

Internet2 is the name of a consortium of more than 180 universities and their partners in industry and government that is leading the effort to make the Internet even more powerful.

Gary Bachula, an official of the Internet2 consortium, said, "The goal really is to develop ways of using a sort of next generation Internet that you can't do on today's Internet. The university community concluded that the Internet of today is great for communication. But, to really do the kind of collaboration that we want to do in the future scientists working together in virtual laboratories or operating telescopes remotely, doing streaming HDTV quality video conferences, having meetings around the world that you really needed to develop a technology, sort of a generation ahead."

Mr. Bachula says that Internet2 will not actually replace the present day Internet. Rather, it will build upon it.

"I think what will happen is that the technologies that we are working with will migrate and evolve into the Internet that we know today," he continued. "So that, in a sense, we'd like to think of ourselves as perhaps three or five years ahead of today's Internet and that we've already seen examples of our technologies working their way into commercial products that are used on today's Internet. We see ourselves as a bit of a window on the future for the Internet that everybody will use."

Gary Bachula says that Internet2 will be a high-performance network that will make the exchange of complex information simple. "We expect to get to the point where you can sort of dial up someone, perhaps from your desktop, or from an equipped conference room as easily as you dial a phone today," he said. "We also know that there are a lot of virtual laboratories being created by the scientific community where databases in one place and supercomputers in another place, and perhaps some simulation software in a third place, all get combined and operate on a desktop as a virtual computer."

The technology was successfully used to hold an Internet2 member meeting the first week of October. Because of concerns over recent terrorist activities in the United States, many members attended the sessions via computer instead of in person.

"We made a decision," he said, "to convert that into a virtual meeting. We had sessions that originated from Ann Arbor, Michigan and from Washington DC, and from literally around the country. Literally, people on college campuses, or anywhere, could click on their desktop computer and access our sessions. We even set up a virtual lobby for people to chat in the lobby, in between sessions. We tried to re-create, to some extent, the sense of what would happen if you went to a professional meeting. I think we concluded that there is still no total substitute for face to face meetings and we are not suggesting that we would ever abandon that. But, it does provide us a layer of resilience. It does provide us a way to overcome obstacles to either air travel, medical quarantines, or other kinds of things. These new technologies will allow our country to keep doing business."

The United States will not be the only country to benefit from the technology developed by the Internet2 consortium. Gary Bachula and his colleagues expect that the innovations will be available worldwide over the next few years as the high-tech network continues to develop and grow.