Carnegie Mellon & Digital Equipment Corp. Collaborate In A $7.5 Million Project To Develop A New Infrastructure For High-Performance Desktop Computing

February 03, 1997

PITTSBURGH--Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science (SCS) are collaborating with Digital Equipment Corp. to create a new, high-performance infrastructure for desktop computing and communication (HPID) that includes advanced video capabilities.

This environment, involving a community of 750 computer users, will serve as one of the largest industry-standard ATM testbeds for the latest computing concepts, and foster ideas for next-generation information and communication services.

The system, based on Digital's high-performance ATM networking technology and Digital Alpha workstations, will involve about 500 state-of-the-art computers and servers interconnected through a very high bandwidth, low-latency network.

The university and the company will share the costs of the project, which are estimated at nearly $7.5 million.

"Digital is the leader in high-end workstation and server computing and a longtime innovator in networking infrastructure," said Howard D. Wactlar, SCS' vice provost for research computing. "This network will be 100 to 1,000 times more powerful than what we're delivering to the desktop in SCS today. It will help us achieve the dream of gigabit bandwidth to the desktop, leapfrog the constraints imposed by incremental growth in networking capacity and enable ubiquitous man and machine communication throughout our environment. Only ATM technology provides a scalable networking solution to reaching our goals."

"With the exponential technological advancements we see for the next several years in both networks and desktop computing, it is certain that the environment we are creating with Carnegie Mellon will be available to the computing world at large by the year 2000," said Dr. Samuel H. Fuller, vice president and chief scientist at Digital Equipment Corp. "Together with Carnegie Mellon, we will enhance this environment over time to ensure that current and future Digital customers have the best system capabilities to support their growing needs."

In addition to exploring issues related to high-bandwidth distributed computing and communication, Carnegie Mellon researchers will use the new infrastructure to develop concepts for next-generation user-level information and communication services, and to create a showcase of the kinds of new capabilities that would be available in a high-bandwidth environment.

"We'll look at applications relating to ubiquitous teleconferencing on demand, electronic hallways and highly interactive collaborations involving groups of people and visual information resources where gestures and images convey more than words can ever say," Wactlar said.

He added that the HPID infrastructure will benefit a number of leading edge research projects already underway at Carnegie Mellon. Among them are "Virtualized Reality," which involves transmission of 3D video images that combine computer graphics and scenes from the real world; transmission of video information from "Informedia," an interactive, on-line, digital video library system, and Credit Net, an ATM-based computer network running at 622 megabits per second, that incorporates credit-based flow control of switches and adapters that ease congestion and prevent collapse, no matter how great the load.

"We'll be able to do experiments we could only imagine before," said Senior Research Computer Scientist William L. Scherlis. "The new infrastructure offers an opportunity for Digital and Carnegie Mellon to study a very high-performance organizational network at a realistic scale and in a heterogeneous environment. It will let us live in the future.?

"Access to a virtually unlimited network of leading edge 64-bit Digital Alpha systems will accelerate the development of next-generation computing applications," said Gil Brezler, Digital's External Technology Group project manager for HPID. "These applications have enormous potential to change work habits and produce significant productivity increases."

At the applications level, it will be much easier to explore new kinds of multimedia services and collaborative applications that go beyond teleconferencing. For example, gigabits to the desktop enable delivery of video in a burst, giving users more options than the usual VCR controls. At the systems and services level, Carnegie Mellon researchers will be able to explore issues like the extent improved communications throughput would enable distributed computing configurations to replace supercomputers for high performance applications.

Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science has been at the forefront of high-performance networking research since the creation of the ARPAnet in the late 1960s, Wactlar observed.

"This track record and the university's unique combination of strong communities in science, business and the arts attuned to and eager to make use of opportunities in high-performance computing make the university an attractive partner for this kind of research," he said.

Carnegie Mellon University

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