The CRPC is part of a Texas consortium that recently received one of 13 National Science Foundation (NSF) awards for high-performance computer connections to the very high speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS). Operated by the NSF and MCI Telecommunications Corporation, the vBNS combines the computing power of five national supercomputing centers to offer scientists speed and data capacity far beyond what is now available on the Internet.

The Texas collaboration, called the Houston Area Computational Science Consortium (HACSC), includes researchers from Rice University, the University of Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine. Tony Gorry, Vice President for Information Technology at Rice, is the project leader and Lennart Johnsson, computer science professor and department chair at the University of Houston, is the chair of HACSC. The group will use the vBNS to conduct computationally intensive research projects in areas like surgical simulation, 3-D modeling of molecular structures, and aircraft design. Led by CRPC Director Ken Kennedy, Rice researchers are developing the software infrastructure that will make such distributed computer systems usable.

"The most important thing that the vBNS connection will permit is large-scale experimentation on distributed supercomputing," says Kennedy. "High-performance parallel computers will be interconnected via the vBNS to carry out calculations that could not have been attacked by any single computer."

The vBNS will enable researchers to experiment with network and supercomputer processing speeds in order to minimize transmission delay, as well as to make improvements in how supercomputers interface with one another. The network initially operated at 155 megabits (Mbps) per second, compared to speeds of up to around 45 Mbps for networks hooked into the Internet. Transmission speeds are projected to increase to speeds in excess of 2.2 gigabits per second within the next few years.

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