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Smarter, Faster Internet II Sits on Front Burner

Texas colleges lead project

Source: Houston Chronicle, March 8, 1997
By Todd Ackerman

The University of Houston, Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine are leading a national effort to build a speedier, more sophisticated Internet.

The $500-million project, dubbed Internet II, is expected to feature virtual reality and allow scientists to do everything from practice brain surgery to run weather simulations to design better aircraft.

"This will deliver multimedia documents of image quality better than any television," said Ken Kennedy, a Rice computer science professor and co-chair of President Clinton's advisory committee on the network. "It will transform the Internet from delivering text documents with some graphics to high-definition, full-motion video."

Internet II is also expected to be a thousand times faster than today's Internet.

UH, Rice and Baylor, along with 10 other institutions, were granted the first connections to five supercomputer centers last fall by the National Science Foundation. The centers and linked institutions are expected to form the backbone of Internet II.

The University of Texas-Austin last month applied to become part of the network. By June, the NSF is expected to announce the next slate of schools to win connections.

In all, more than 100 universities -- including Rice, UH and Baylor --have banded to plan the effort, expected to take three to five years before it is fully up and running. Like the original, it is expected to move from universities to the private sector to consumers.

Currently, Internet II is moving data for the 13 linked schools at 655 million bits a second, compared with the 28,800 bits a second that is the highest speed available to most Internet users. Internet II is expected to reach data transfer speed of 2.2 trillion bits a second in a few years.

Some researchers had emphasized they need a next-generation Internet because the mass commercialization of the existing one has made it too congested to handle many of the huge computations they demand. It can also be inefficient, sometimes bouncing e-mail around the globe before it lands in a computer down the hall from where it was sent.

But Kennedy stressed it is the capabilities of Internet II that make it most "exciting." Those capabilities include the Rice-UH-Baylor coalition's plan to collaborate in visualizing molecular processes using UH's virtual reality lab and UT's plan to use the same lab to visualize models they'll create of environmental problems in Galveston Bay.

Kennedy acknowledged that Internet II will also likely become congested as it is made available to the public. But, he added, scientists will then build a yet more sophisticated one.

"Computer superhighways are no different from vehicle highways,"said Kennedy. "They keep getting congested, no matter how many you build. If we're successful at Internet II, its resulting congestion will be a measure of that success.

Funding for Internet II includes Clinton's pledge of NSF funds of $100 million a year for three years. Universities each chip in $25,000 --as well as brainpower -- to join and some private interests have promised to help sponsor the project.

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