Internet2 quadruples speed
The Daily, University of Washington - Seattle
By Scott Rosen
Since the Internet Age dawned about a decade ago, Seattle has been known as a hotbed of Internet activity because of local businesses like Microsoft and Amazon.com. But some of the biggest innovations in the past 10 years have come from the UW.
Many of those developments have come thanks to the UW's participation in Internet2 -- a group of universities across the country that partnered to create a high-speed network known as Abilene.
Recently, a massive overhaul of Abilene was finished, quadrupling its backbone speed from 2.5 gigabits per second to 10 gigabits per second. With the upgrade completed, enough music to fill a 20-gigabyte iPod can be transferred across the country through Abilene's fiber-optic cables in 16 seconds.
But downloading music is not what Abliene is designed for, according to Ron Johnson, vice provost and vice president of Computing & Communications. Rather, Abilene exists as a research and education network crucial to the UW and the other 205 Internet2 institutions.
"The reality is that higher education in general -- and it goes beyond higher education into a lot of K-12 worlds as well -- pretty much is dependant upon reasonably high performance and reasonably inexpensive interconnection of us to the rest of the higher-education community," Johnson said. "That's pretty much what Internet2 is."
Johnson said many applications that weren't practical before are now becoming commonplace at Internet2 schools.
"It allows for a number of things that really aren't possible with lower-speed networks," Johnson said. "Whole classes of computer applications and network applications require things that are in the hundreds of millions of bits per second or billions of bits per second."
Johnson cited medical-imaging applications as one example of programs that need large amounts of bandwidth. He also said music classes can now be taught over Abilene with real-time audio and video.
While some on campus may be conscious of their frequent Abilene use, many others are not. The UW integrated its Abilene connection with its normal Internet connection, so students and professors are frequently plugged into the ultra-high-speed network without realizing it.
"Every computer on the campus -- including everybody's wireless computers -- all send traffic over Internet2, whether people know it or not," Johnson said. "Any traffic that goes between .edu sites will almost always go across Internet2. So you get a higher-performance connection, and you get a cheaper connection."
Johnson estimated the UW's Internet2 usage costs the school between $300,000 and $400,000 per year for the constant 10-gigabits-per-second connection. By comparison, commodity Internet service providers charge roughly $2 million per year for each gigabit-per-second connection.
As an Abilene hub, the UW is responsible for providing access to other institutions around the Northwest. WSU and the universities of Idaho, Montana and Alaska are some of the institutions that receive Abilene connections from the UW, as well as Microsoft and Boeing.