For scientists trying to share vast amounts of electronic data, traffic on the Internet can slow to an agonizing crawl. But the pace will pick up soon for 35 research institutions across the country. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced yesterday that it has awarded grants totaling $12.3 million to help universities hook up to the very high speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS).
The vBNS is an NSF-funded set of high-speed links that already connects 31 universities to supercomputer sites across the country. The connections can handle as many as 622 million bits per second, hundreds of times the capacity of the ordinary Internet. For number-crunching researchers, these links offer the "supercomputing equivalent of telecommuting," says Robert Hollebeek, co-director of the National Scaleable Cluster Project at the University of Pennsylvania, and an earlier award grantee.
Many scientists already have plans for the faster access. High-energy physicists at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana will use their connection to run data analysis on computers at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, says Larry Rapagnani, an information technologist at Notre Dame. On the West Coast, planned connections among all campuses of the University of California, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of Southern California will enable students and faculty to access video from digital libraries, listen to physics lectures from UC Santa Barbara, and may allow researchers at UC Santa Cruz to control the Keck telescope in Hawaii from their offices in California, says M. Stuart Lynn, vice president for information resources and communications at the University of California.
The money--about $350,000 per institution--will pay for routers and cables as well as high-speed connections provided by telecommunications companies. NSF aims eventually to connect 100 institutions to the network. A full list of universities receiving grants can be found online.