SOCORRO, N.M., March 8, 2001 -- It's comparable to stepping up from a cartpath to an eight-lane superhighway, says Robert W. Tacker, director of Information Services at New Mexico Tech.
The analogy is one Tacker frequently uses as he describes the new Internet2 connection New Mexico Tech recently tapped into with the help of a $366,000 National Science Foundation grant.
With added communications equipment and connection fees paid for by the NSF grant, New Mexico Tech has joined an elite group of 182 U.S. universities, along with national research laboratories such as Sandia and Los Alamos, that have begun developing and deploying the advanced network applications and technology of the Internet2, which is being touted as the
Internet of the future.
"Internet2 is a separate Internet altogether that is specifically set aside for education and research," Tacker explains. "The general public isn't allowed to tap directly into it. It's designed for very high speed, state-of-the-art communications."
Internet2, however, is not designed to replace the current commercial Internet, he adds, but instead brings together research institutions and resources from academia, industry, and government to develop new technologies and capabilities which can potentially be later deployed on the regular Internet.
"Speed is the basic difference between Internet2, or I-2 as it's being called, and the older, more familiar Internet," Tacker says. "Internet2, with its huge bandwidth, can carry information more than 6000 times faster than sending something on the Internet over regular phone lines."
And with all that added speed, researchers at New Mexico Tech can now transmit and receive huge volumes of data in minutes over the Internet2, a process which may have taken hours, or even days in some instances, on the old Internet connections.
The new high-performance network connection on campus allows researchers at Tech, as well as those at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is located on the Tech campus, improved access to other research facilities, databanks, and supercomputers located throughout the globe.
With the Internet2 network link, astrophysicists from across the world will now be able to view data generated by the NRAO's Very Large Array and Very Long Baseline Array radiotelescopes on an instantaneous, real-time basis.
"I'm sure Tech's close association with NRAO, as well as its having several unique sources of information on campus--EMRTC, iCASA and IRIS/PASSCAL, to name just a few--played a large role in our garnering the NSF grant to set up the Internet2 connection," Tacker relates.
"We're probably the smallest research institution hooked up to Internet2," he adds. "Most of the other universities involved with Internet2--like MIT and Caltech--have enrollments of more than 20,000 students. . . . And now, with the subsequent expansion of research capabilities Internet2 has brought, New Mexico Tech can compete for research project funding on equal footing with much bigger institutions.
"Through Internet2, researchers here at Tech could now get access to one of several supercomputers--whether it's located in San Diego, Chicago, or Maui, it doesn't matter--and use it as if the supercomputer were located right on campus," Tacker explains.
One of the first applications the new Internet2 connection will be used for on the New Mexico Tech campus is distance education, Tacker says.
In fact, on March 26, several New Mexico Tech students pursuing degrees with an emphasis in explosives engineering will begin taking an on-line course in "construction vibrations," being transmitted from Northwestern University through the Internet 2 and marking the first time the state-supported university in Socorro has employed the cutting-edge technology in one of its classrooms.
"In the past, most distance education classes offered at Tech were uplinked and downlinked via satellite, and that proved to be very expensive," Tacker says.
"Because of New Mexico Tech's relatively small size, we initially applied for Internet2 as part of a consortium with the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University," Tacker says, "a group that includes all three of the state's research universities. . . . The support we received from our partner universities also was a key element in receiving the NSF grant."
Eventually, that select group intends to co-sponsor all the other higher education institutions in the state, allowing them to "piggyback" on the already existing Internet2 connection which speeds in and out of Tech on dedicated fiber-optic cables.
And, the new world of possibilities Internet2 opens up will not be strictly limited to researchers at the universities and the national labs: "Since the Socorro Consolidated Schools and the Socorro Public Library are already provided Internet service through New Mexico Tech, we'll also eventually be able to allow them access to our Internet2 connection," Tacker says.