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More About Networks: A Regional Perspective

I have just returned home from the spring Internet2 meeting, a gathering of IT folks and the occasional faculty member from across the nation and around the world. This is a meeting with a focus on research and education networking nationally and internationally. It is a gathering where the focus is on taking advantage of the capabilities of the Internet2 backbone network (a network that is often called Abilene). The backbone for this network runs across the country from New York and Washington to Los Angeles and Seattle. It also g'es south through Atlanta and Houston. Universities and coalitions of universities then build on ramps to Internet2. And thus we connect to our colleagues in other universities around the country.

Internet2 provides access to global networks that take our researchers around the world. Today, a new high-speed research network is evolving in the United States. It is known as National Lambda Rail (NLR). NLR is being designed not only to move massive amounts of research data around the nation, but also to allow researchers to do research on the network. It will be used for production network purposes for researchers and to do research about networks. The map of the U.S. shows the Internet2 network route and the proposed (and evolving) route for NLR. But at the campus level, this national research network infrastructure is only as good as our connections to it. And look at the map again. You can see, we have a “last mile” problem, or for my friends in the Dakotas, it’s a last hundreds of miles problem. As we look at exciting applications that some folks are running across Internet2, it is clear to many of us that we can’t do what those in Pittsburgh and Denver, those on the main line, can do.

In Madison, it would not be wise to try to orchestrate a dance class with the students in Madison and the choreographer in Corvallis. Sure, we can do video over IP, but there is no guarantee of decent end-to-end performance. The faculty member could get lost on the network, or have his head and his body in different universes on the screen. No matter how well the students in Madison are performing, the faculty member could be viewing dancers who are not moving in time to the music and whose movements are extraordinarily choppy. The idea of a master class using the network is fine. The successful implementation depends on the location of the two end points.

And that’s simply one example of the challenge. At our state network Future Technologies Forum, we had a great speaker, John Delaney from the University of Washington. John is the program director of Neptune, a project to build an undersea observatory off the West coast between Portland, Oregon, and Victoria, BC, that allows observation of interactions between living and nonliving elements under the sea. The intent of Neptune is to make the information and the experience of undersea exploration available not only to scientists, but also to students, from kindergarten to graduate programs. The capabilities for simulating undersea environments and ocean exploration that Neptune will offer are boundless. For our students and teachers in Wisconsin to take advantage of this phenomenal opportunity, we need to be better connected throughout our state, to the national research network infrastructure.

In Wisconsin, we have banded together with our colleagues in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Idaho in an attempt to build another line on the national network infrastructure from Chicago to Seattle through our states. We call ourselves the Northern Tier Network Consortium (NTNC). None of us are the national leaders in building network infrastructure. We are figuring this out as we go along, politically, financially, and technically.

Our colleagues in the northeast corner of the U.S.—New England and upstate New York—are engaged in the same kind of process. The Northeast Research and Educational Network (NEREN) initiative is trying to build great connectivity for that part of the country to the advanced network points of presence in New York City.

We all need to be able to take advantage of the great advancements in computing and networking technology, the great work of scientists and scholars in this country and worldwide. We need to make the learning and discovery process available to students—in the cities and in the remote rural areas. National advanced network infrastructure is one part of the support for that kind of access. Building out the networks in our communities, our states, and our regions is the other critical component. For universities and colleges, this kind of access is critical to our mission.


Northern Tier Network Consortium (NTNC)

Northeast Research and Educational
Network (NREN)

National Lambda Rail (NLR)

Future Technologies Forum


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