19 May From the back roads to the superhighway: Making the connection to Internet2
A joint effort of industry, government, and more than 200 universities (including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University), Internet2 is leading the way toward revolutionary new network technologies and high-speed Internet-based applications. But effective access to Internet2’s main infrastructure is still limited. In this commentary, UW-Madison’s Chief Information Officer and Director of the Division of Information Technology, Annie Stunden, illustrates the problem and outlines a solution.
It’s only an accident of geography, but researchers at UW-Madison are riding the back roads to Internet2, the nationwide backbone network on which much of our advanced research depends.
Our closest connection point to Internet2 [www.internet2.edu/] is Chicago. Even though our campus network gives us a useful on-ramp to the national network, researchers and instructors here find that traversing those relatively few miles to Chicago presents a real bottleneck. We don’t have the same access to exciting applications and the resources of international networks as do folks in, say, Denver and Pittsburgh, who sit on the Internet2 mainline. In competing for big federal grants, researchers with better access to Internet2 have an advantage.
And if we’re struggling to connect from Madison, think of the people in Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas, Idaho and Montana. If we have a last-mile problem, they have a last-hundreds-of-miles problem.
We simply need better access to Internet2 and the national research network infrastructure, and we’re working hard to get it. Along with our colleagues on the back roads, we have formed the Northern Tier Network Consortium to build another line on the national network stretching from Chicago to Seattle through our states. None of us are national leaders in building network infrastructure. We are figuring this out as we go along, looking for solutions to the political, financial and technical issues that stand in our way.
Mainline access to the national network is critical to enabling our scientists and researchers to carry on their work and for students to learn and discover. Geography shouldn’t be a barrier. UW-Madison and its partners in the Northern Tier Network Consortium are working to ensure that it isn’t.
For details on the goals and activities of the Northern Tier initiative, see its Web site.