A newer, faster Internet is being bred on the campuses of the nation's largest research universities.
How new? Some users have been developing the network - known in broad terms as Internet2 - for two years. But it is new enough that hardware and software are still being designed.How fast? Fast enough to transfer the contents of the Library of Congress in less than a minute, boasts Denver-based Qwest Communications International Inc. Quest donated a portion of its national fiber-optic network to Internet2 development.
The network can move data faster than computers can use it. That makes the network's limits difficult to test.
"Right now they're cramming information on this thing to find out what the limits are," said David Young, account executive in Salt Lake City with Teleport Communications Group, which supplies the University of Utah's access to the network.
Here are some terms for the new super network:
Internet2: A consortium of more than 120 top research universities, including the University of Utah and Utah State University. Their goal is to develop advanced Internet technology and applications to meet the research and education needs no longer served by the existing Internet. It is funded in part by grants from the National Science Foundation along with significant money and equipment donations from the telecommunications industry. Internet2 also goes by the shorter moniker "I2."
vBNS: The very high-speed Backbone Network, the National Science Foundation's high-bandwidth research network established in 1997. Universities have to prove they are qualified to connect, and only some of the Internet2 developers have access to the network. The U. is one of only 40 universities on the vBNS network. The U. has a connection with the data-carrying equivalent of more than 2,000 conventional phone lines, Young said.
GigaPoPs: Extra high-capacity hubs, or network connecting sites, that provide direct access to and from Internet2 participants. Those institutions' non-research computer network traffic, like e-mail, will still be routed over more conventional network lines to keep the high-speed channels from becoming cluttered.
Abilene Network: The name for the education and research network developed by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (the parent for the Internet2 group) and several major corporate sponsors. It is expected to begin before the end of the year and be fully usable by the end of 1999. Abilene might better be described as an intranet than an internet because it is essentially a closed network. Users need a lot of money and a nod from the National Science Foundation.
A list of participating Internet2 universities and GigaPoP sites can be found at (www.internet2.edu/html). Maps of the vBNS network can be found at (www.vbns.net/logical.html).
Most computer users know the Internet through their use of the World Wide Web. Born as a tool for the military and universities, the Internet grew up, stepped out from under the tent of government control to become a global enterprise that continues to grow - and get slower - as hundreds of new Web sites are added each day.
"The old Internet has been saturated with commercial and private use," said Joe Doupnik, Utah State University professor of electrical and computer engineering. "More capacity is very badly needed, particularly for large images and real-time conferencing."
Internet2 has "no commercial users at this stage, only supercomputer centers and major medical facilities. We regard that generally as a good thing," said Doupnik.
Speed gives Internet2 its appeal to potential commercial users who are helping to pay a $50,000 per-year share of the $500 million development costs. Controlled access, which keeps the commercial users at bay for the time being, gives scientists and academics the assurance the network will function reliably.
"The problem with the Internet today isn't terrible service, it's just that everybody gets the same service, which is unpredictable," said Ron Hutchins, director of engineering in Georgia Tech's Office of Information Technology. "I may be doing great for a minute and a half and then everything slows down."
Doctors may be consulting over the network during a complex surgical procedure, swapping X-ray or MRI images from computer to computer for example. A breakdown in the network could be more devastating for them and their patients than an Internet interruption that keeps someone from doing a little on-line shopping.
Internet2 isn't intended to be a replacement for the existing Internet but rather an addition that will offer a different level of service. Creating parallel Internets that offer different levels of service is the best idea, Hutchins said. "It's first class on an airplane versus business class versus tourist class. You're going to pay more for first class, but you're going to have a more defined service."
"There is a quantum leap between the World Wide Web and Internet2," said Kris Stewart, director of the new Educational Center on Computational Science and Engineering at San Diego State University.
Researchers, she said, don't see Internet research as a project destined to have a completion date. "It is their explicit charge to stay five to 10 years ahead, in technology, of what is available to the research scientist on their desktop."
Participants agree that new technology born on campus has a hard time staying there when it grows up. Commercial "partners" to the Internet2 consortium who contribute millions of dollars at a time obviously hope that is the case.
"It's just a matter of time as we in the research community test out the commercial applications and see which are the most effective," Stewart said.
"In the end there will probably be commercial applications, wider use - it will probably benefit everybody," Doupnik said.