Charted as a high-bandwidth network that will support advanced applications such as real-time virtual research, Internet2 aims to improve education by sidestepping the constraints of the public Internet. The participating universities are shelling out a total of $50 million a year to connect the students and faculty to the new network, promised to run 100 times faster than the plain Net.
The Internet2 applications working group is convening through tomorrow to define universities' needs for the network and see demonstrations of applications, such as "tele-immersion."
For example, using a tele-immersion system, students and faculty could enter a virtual online location to not only exchange data but to modify a project together or conduct an experiment in real time.
"Imagine accessing an electronic microscope remotely," said Ted Hanss, director of applications development for Internet 2. "You could then send a specimen to better equipment somewhere else, focus the microscope, and then get high-quality video feedback."
Another hot topic today was "digital libraries." Internet2 will make it possible for libraries to aggregate offerings in cyberspace, in addition to giving students access to rare materials or rich multimedia content without delay.
"The digital library application is one of the near-term exciting applications because it attracts a broad range of users," David Wasley, information infrastructure planner for the University of California's office of the president. "There will be access to full-text online documents as well as images and museum collections. What we find today is that the network is the main impediment of people utilizing this material now."
This digital library, along with other applications, is expected to come to fruition as soon as the network's backbone is complete. But deploying the network is the biggest challenge facing the Internet 2 coalition, the working group says. "As more of our faculty make use of these tools they need more bandwidth," said Bill Graves, associate provost for information technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
To bring the project full circle, universities also need to improve computer access, "This won't work unless the infrastructure is there and every student and faculty member has a PC," Graves added.