Internet2 is a five-year effort to interconnect 140 universities that will create advanced network applications, allowing students and professors to view and consult during real-time medical operations, for example, or collaborate in virtual labs. Participants committed $50 million per year to the project in hopes of shipping huge packets of data or streaming video over networks at breakneck speeds without interruption.
The university project will run on the $500 million Abilene fiber-optic backbone developed by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID) in partnership with Qwest Communications, Nortel Networks, Cisco Systems, and Indiana University. Abilene operates at speeds up to 2.4 gigabits per second--85,000 times faster than a standard dial-up modem.
The project also will hook into existing advanced research and education networks, such as the high-performance Backbone Network Service and the Clinton administration's Next Generation Internet, which is being built by government research agencies to be 100 to 1,000 times faster than the public Internet.
Although Internet2 and its backbones will not be immediately available to the public, the advantages of new technologies and bolstered data speeds are expected to trickle down to the global Internet.
"The whole idea is that the universities will use this to work with corporations," said Greg Wood, Internet2's spokesman. "The ultimate goal to have these new applications move to the commercial Internet as soon as possible. If they don't, we've missed the point."
IBM will be the first firm to link up with Internet2. IBM researchers will work with Internet2 institutions to produce technologies to manage traffic and improve security over high-speed networks as well as bandwidth-intensive applications for integrating video, voice, and data feeds.
"We think the world is going to see a rapid change in bandwidth and quality of service," said Stuart Feldman, director of Network Computing Software Research at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center and its Institute for Advanced Commerce. "In the short run, this is a research effort--we are not expecting a return in our product stream."
But down the line, companies like IBM could develop lucrative products through the Internet2 connection.
"Universities are hotbeds for professorial and student talent," Feldman added. "We are deeply plugged into this, and have always been a world-class lab in this area."