NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, will be the first organisation outside the San Francisco Bay area to hook up to a new network that is being hyped as the forerunner of the Next Generation Internet.
Federal officials announced last week that JPL would connect to the National Transparent Optical Network (NTON), a computer network being built to transmit data at a rate of 10Gbits/sec to 20Gbps, which is hundreds of times faster than most current connections to the Internet.
The high-speed connection will enable JPL to exchange data with scientists and researchers a few hours up the coast at the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, as well as with other research organisations operating on NTON.
"Now people at other sites could examine the results [of research] without going up to NASA Ames," said William Lennon, principal investigator for NTON at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a member of the consortium developing the network.
The consortium -- which also includes Nortel Networks, GST Telecommunications, Sprint and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system -- has been building the network in the San Francisco Bay area for several years.
NTON is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's SuperNet project, part of the federal initiative to develop the Next Generation Internet. NTON began expanding towards the Los Angeles area and JPL last year, completing the work and testing the connection earlier this month.
The connection enables researchers at JPL to instantly share massive amounts of data with researchers at Ames or any other organisation connected to NTON.
Larry Bergman, manager of the Information and Computing Research Technologies Section for JPL, said JPL already has a need to share large amounts of information with researchers elsewhere. "The data sets are sometimes so large that it's very difficult to get them over the conventional Internet," he said.
For example, NASA has millions of bits of data in the form of images gathered from satellites looking at the earth and telescopes looking at the heavens.
NASA scientists at JPL can project the images onto a "power wall" -- a video display roughly 2.1m x .9m -- enabling researchers to pan over or zoom in on the images using a joystick. But computers must process huge amounts of information for the panning and zooming to take place, so sharing that information in real time via a long-distance network connection proves a challenge. "Sharing it has been a problem outside the room," Bergman said. NTON, with its ability to send more data faster, would alleviate that problem.
Bergman said the NTON connection will make it easier for JPL researchers to collaborate more effectively and will save scientists the trouble of replicating large datasets when scientists in other laboratories want to use the data. Instead, far-away scientists can use NTON to access the data where it resides.
"It will enable the researcher to push his own envelope," said Hal Edwards, director of government programs for Nortel.
Edwards and others label NTON a stepping stone to the Internet of the future. Edwards said the NTON consortium wants "to try to simulate the kinds of networks, technology and protocols that will be used to build the Next Generation Internet".
"This series of applications and some of the underlying network technology that's being tested in the NTON is the precursor for what all networks will be like in five to 10 years," Lennon said. "Its goal is to hook people up at about 1000 times the data rate that most businesses are hooked up today."
At a Glance
-- Will run from San Diego to Seattle, with nodes in Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Portland, Oregon, and an optically switched ring around the San Francisco Bay.
-- Will link government, research and private-sector labs.
-- Will be a Wavelength Division Multiplexing network and will use in-place commercial fibre.
-- Will connect to other government research networks, including the the very high-speed Backbone Network Service, the Defense Research and Engineering Network, and the NASA Research and Education Network.
-- Will connect West Coast supercomputer sites, digital libraries, high-energy physics labs and medical research institutions.