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MIT shares NSF funding to build high-speed network

MIT is one of 35 research institutions in the United States that will share $12.3 million in grants from the National Science Foundation to allow them to connect to the very-high-speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS)--a network that will soon be fast enough to transmit all 30 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica in less than a second.

The latest grants, announced by Vice President Albert Gore on May 20, bring the total number of research institutions connected to vBNS to 64.

Both Harvard and MIT received a grant of $350,000, while Boston University received a grant in an earlier round of funding. The three institutions will use the NSF funds as well as their own to build a high-speed Internet infrastructure in the Boston area. They hope to extend this network throughout New England as other schools receive funding and technology progresses.

The NSF grants are part of the Clinton administration's Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, a $100 million-per-year, three-year project that will connect more than 100 research institutions at speeds that are 100 to 1,000 times faster than today's Internet; invest in research and development for new networking technologies, and demonstrate new applications in areas such as distance education, telemedicine, national security and "collaboratories" (laboratories without walls).

The new network will provide connections at around 155 megabits per second (Mb/sec), or between 10 and 15 times faster than the existing Internet. This "gigaPoP" will in turn be connected to the vBNS itself, which operates at 622 Mb/sec, said Jeffrey Schiller, a network manager in Information Systems.

Once this work is complete, "researchers and educators can consider uses of the network that are too demanding for the `commodity' Internet infrastructure of today," Mr. Schiller said. "Examples include video conferencing and remote experiment control. Imagine a researcher at MIT operating a scientific instrument in another part of the world (or better yet, in orbit!), having a live video feed of what the instrument is doing and being able to control it and have the control operations take effect immediately --i.e., not delayed by a slow network."

Private-sector companies will commercialize the new technologies that are developed as part of the NGI initiative. The initiative is a partnership between industry, academia and government agencies (the NSF, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, the National Library of Medicine, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology). It has been endorsed by industry leaders at companies including IBM, MCI, Sun, Silicon Graphics, General Electric and Novell.

More information about the NGI is available on the Web at <>.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 4, 1997.

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