Scientists Set Up Alternative to ‘World Wide Wait’ -URBANA,

 Computer scientist Oliver McBryan had a problem working on a virtual model of a flying airplane: The Internet is so slow it would take 100 days to download one simulation.
The vast computer network originally built for scientists is so technologically dated and clogged with regular folks sending e-mail, playing games and downloading video clips that the scientists can’t get anything done.

Now, McBryan and other researchers have gone online with an entirely new, scientists-only computer network called vBNS that exchanges data at speeds that blow away the World Wide wait of the Internet.

“Moving from the Internet to vBNS is like moving from a pocket calculator to a personal desktop computer,” said McBryan, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Top speed of the vBNS, or “very high speed Backbone Network System,” is being bumped up this month to more than 21,000 times that of the average modem. The network will be able to transmit the entire contents of the Library of Congress twice a day — a task that would take an entire month on the Internet.

While the general public may never have access to the vBNS, telecommunications companies already are taking lessons learned from the vBNS and using them to help ease congestion on the Internet.

McBryan and other experts say the Internet could be upgraded to run as fast as the vBNS in five to 10 years, creating consumer opportunities such as downloading a digital-quality, two-hour movie in a matter of seconds.

The vBNS started in 1995 as a 14,000-mile fiber optic loop connecting the nation’s five supercomputing centers in San Diego; Boulder, Colo.; Urbana; Pittsburgh; and Ithaca, N.Y. Researchers needed the vBNS to more easily transfer the huge amounts of data used on supercomputers because the Internet was not up to the task.

Computer experts also needed a place to develop and test the technology needed to rev up the Internet to higher speeds. MCI Telecommunications Corp., which built and maintains vBNS, already is using some vBNS routing technology on its Internet service, said project manager Charles Lee.

Administrators at the National Science Foundation, which once managed the original Internet, decide which researchers and projects can have access to the network. MCI’s agreement with the foundation requires that the vBNS always be faster than any network available commercially.

“There aren’t millions of users doing e-mail,” Lee explained. “It’s strictly for what’s called meritorious applications — support of science with a big S.”

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Urbana is developing ways to bring people at separate sites into the same virtual reality environment.

For example, the center is working with Caterpillar Inc. to let company engineers in the United States and Europe simultaneously tinker with computer models of tractors.

The most innovative uses of such a high-speed network could be hard to predict, however. Ten years ago, few computer experts could have imagined the popularity of the World Wide Web, that portion of the Internet where users can view text and images, hear sounds and watch animation or video.

“It’s not clear exactly where the Internet is going,” researcher Charlie Catlett said. “The vBNS is a test bed to let us figure out how the next generation of Internet will look.”

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