A consortium of eight New York colleges and universities, including Cornell, will receive grants to support connection to a special high-speed computer network as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant announced by President Bill Clinton yesterday (Feb. 26).
Cornell has been connected to the NSF's very high performance Backbone Network Service (vBNS) since 1995, but approval of the new grant means that the service will continue and will be more widely available to faculty throughout the campus, according to Peter Siegel, director of the Network and Computing Systems division of Cornell Information Technologies.
"This announcement is critical to the campus research community because it gives us access to high-speed connections with these New York universities as well as other vBNS schools around the nation for research collaboration and distance-learning applications," Siegel says. "It also means that the vBNS connection is changing from a focused high-end resource to a resource for the entire campus."
The vBNS network was originally created to connect five national supercomputer centers funded by the NSF, including Cornell's Theory Center. It has expanded to include 63 institutions, and the grant announced by President Clinton will add 29 more. The eight-member New York state consortium includes Columbia University, New York University, the University of Rochester, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York at Buffalo, the City University of New York, and Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. Syracuse University, already connected to the vBNS network, is expected to participate in statewide collaborations made possible by the high-speed connections.
Some of the schools in the New York consortium may not receive their grants immediately, because a preliminary injunction in a pending lawsuit (William Thomas, et al, v. Network Solutions and National Science Foundation) currently prevents NSF from spending all of the set aside for Internet development.
Cornell receives little or no money from the grant because it already has a connection to the network. But the approval allows the university to maintain its vBNS connection and expand its use on campus, even though the Theory Center lost its NSF funding last year when the agency reduced the number of national supercomputer centers to three. The Theory Center has been reorganized to provide supercomputing facilities primarily to researchers on the Cornell campus.
Siegel says that use of the vBNS will be restricted to "meritorious applications," which might include the transmission of video and data to allow professors at several schools to teach courses simultaneously to students in several locations, as well as collaboration and data sharing among researchers. "Even now," Siegel says, "Cornell has more traffic going over the vBNS than over the commodity Internet, because we are doing more collaboration with other vBNS schools."
The term "commodity Internet" is a reminder that the expansion of commercial use has produced congestion that makes the network less useful for the research and education applications for which it was originally conceived. The vBNS is seen as an early step in the development of Internet II, a project to provide a separate network for education and research.
The vBNS system moves data at speeds up to 622 megabits (millions of binary bits of data) per second. Cornell's current connection provides a speed of 155 megabits per second, Siegel says. By the year 2000, most institutions will have connections that move a billion bits per second or more, according to NSF plans. Cornell's connection to the commodity Internet runs at 45 megabits per second, which, Siegel says "is becoming bottom performance."
Eventually, Siegel says, Internet II will use other systems in addition to vBNS and will include elementary and high schools, industry and perhaps other institutions such as hospitals.
Siegel is Cornell's executive liaison to the national Internet II program, and Cornell is one of a group of universities working to develop computer software to help operate the new network.