Researchers will soon be able to plug into a new high-speed network designed to boost information-sharing capacity and bring back the rapid innovation that characterized the early days of academic networks.
Known as National LambdaRail, the project involves more than 100 universities and organizations, including Cisco Systems and the Internet2 consortium. The Abilene backbone available at many universities and companies (Science, 24 April 1998, p. 491) transmits information at 10 gigabits per second, but all users share this capacity, which can slow the flow and precludes experimentation with new technologies. With LambdaRail's fiber-optic lines, different wavelengths can be parceled out to separate projects. LambdaRail can in effect host 40 networks, each running at Abilene's pace and using different technologies.
The goal isn't just speed, says project board member Ron Johnson, vice president for computing and communications at the University of Washington, Seattle. “We're trying to rekindle the significant innovation that took place at the beginning of the Internet era,” he says. As with ARPANET and NSFnet, two ancestors of the Internet, LambdaRail will allow researchers to easily experiment to devise better technology and protocols for shipping data. Johnson estimates the initial cost of the project at $50 million over 5 years, which will come from the members of the consortium. LambdaRail's first working link between Pittsburgh and Chicago will be completed in November, Johnson says; the others will come online by next spring. For more information, visit http://www.nationallambdarail.org./