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Chicago-Pittsburgh Link Marks First Step Of New National Computer Infrastructure

Chicago-Pittsburgh Link Marks First Step Of New National Computer Infrastructure
Network expected to advance science, engineering and medical researchPITTSBURGH
A consortium of top U.S. research universities and private sector technology companies announced last month the establishment of a high-speed computer connection between research centers in Chicago and Pittsburgh, marking the first notable sign of progress for the National LambdaRail (NLR) project. Launched in September, the NLR initiative, which is coordinated by the National LambdaRail Inc. consortium, is deploying a new and innovative national networking infrastructure to advance networking research and the next generation of network-based applications in science, engineering and medicine. Similar to the high-speed networking and networks that support the Internet2 applications under development by leading research universities, the NLR seeks to stimulate innovative research and development into next generation network technologies, protocols, services and applications. The NLR consortium of universities and corporations, formed earlier this year, is building a network that will eventually include 11,000 miles of high-speed connections linking the consortium members and major population areas. National “LambdaRail” combines the Greek symbol for light waves with “rail,” which recalls the 19th-century form of network that united the United States. “National LambdaRail is an important development by the community. It will contribute to the cyberinfrastructure that is critical to progress in every field of science and engineering,” says Dr. Peter Freeman, the assistant director for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation.
The development of NLR “can lead to significantly expanded access for many researchers and educators to computational, analytical and visualization tools, as well as large data repositories,” according to Freeman.
“This will help create new scientific opportunities across the frontier,” he says. Officials say the NLR is probably the most ambitious research and education networking initiative since the ARPANET and the NSFnet, both of which led to the commercialization of the Internet. The NLR, like Internet2, strives to again stimulate and support innovative network research to go beyond the current evolution of the Internet. In support of NLR, the anticipated investment over the next five years from at least 16 of its key members should range from $80 million to $100 million, according to the NLR.  The new infrastructure will provide a wide range of facilities, capabilities and services in support of both application level and networking level experiments. NLR serves a diverse set of communities including computational scientists, distributed systems researchers and networking researchers.“Integral to NLR is each member’s commitment to further improve end-to-end network performance by providing dedicated optical capabilities from campus research labs to integrate seamlessly with NLR,” says Dr. Tracy Futhey, the chair of the NLR board of directors and chief information officer at Duke University. “We will work closely with the growing set of regional and enterprise optical networking initiatives to deliver NLR capabilities to university campuses and into researchers’ laboratories. We hope to spur the development of other such efforts around the country.”
Current NLR members and associates include the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, (CENIC); the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center; Duke University, representing a coalition of North Carolina universities; the Virginia Tech Foundation; Cisco Systems, Internet2, Florida LambdaRail; and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Contrasting NLR and Internet2, Futhey explains that “more than 200 colleges, universities and other research institutions have come to depend on Internet2 for reliable high-speed transmission of research data, video conferencing and coursework,” according to Duke University news reports. “While Internet2’s Abilene network supports research, NLR will offer more options to researchers. Its optical fiber and light waves will be configured to allow essentially private research networks between two locations. The traffic and protocols transmitted over such a ‘point-to-point’ wave won’t affect anything else. In other words, the one NLR network, with its ‘dark fiber’ and other technical features, gives us 40 essentially private networks, making it the ideal place for the sorts of early experimentation that network researchers need to develop new applications and systems for sharing information,” Futhey says.
The Chicago-Pittsburgh link — connecting the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to the StarLight computer facility in Chicago represents the initial segment of a “national footprint” to be covered by the NLR. “We are pleased that the first segment on the NLR infrastructure has been lit. It was very important to meet the time requirements of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and the NLR schedule. It gives us the confidence that the remaining paths will be lit as easily as this one,” says Tom West, CEO of National LambdaRail Inc.The NLR consortium is currently working on the Seattle to Portland, Ore., path, scheduled for completion by mid-January 2004, and the Portland to Sunnyvale, Calif., path, scheduled to be ready by mid-April 2004. Other segments on the national footprint include Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., mid-March 2004; Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, mid-April 2004; Denver to Seattle, early June 2004; Atlanta to Jacksonville, mid-July 2004; and Chicago to Denver, mid-July 2004. Implementation of Atlanta to Dallas; Dallas to San Diego; and Washington, D.C., to New York City are scheduled for July to December 2004. 

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