The University At Buffalo Receives NSF Grant For High-Speed Computer Connection

October 05, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has received $350,000 from the National Science Foundation as its share of a $1.75 million grant to a consortium of New York State research universities that will allow the group to hook into the VBNs, the very-high-speed backbone network service that ties together the supercomputing sites in the country.

The grant will aid the consortium -- known as NYSERNet -- in its NYSERNet 2000 Project, a partnership with the state to build a high-performance network infrastructure that parallels the New York State Thruway and will provide connectivity to the VBNs from New York City to Buffalo, says Hinrich Martens, UB associate vice president for computing and information technology. Travelers along the Thruway no doubt have noticed the huge spools of multicolored cables that have been used to build the network, Martens says.

The VBNs is "the way to connect the states together into one network," says Jerry Bucklaew, UB network engineer and the university's engineering representative to NYSERNet.

Martens expects the connection to be ready by May.

NYSERNet, which, in addition to UB, includes all public and private research universities in New York State, was created as a not-for-profit organization in 1985 to advance the use of cutting-edge networking technology to support research and education.

A subgroup of NYSERNet consisting of UB, Columbia University, the University of Rochester, New York University and the Rochester Institute of Technology received the grant.

In addition to being a member of NYSERNet, UB has joined Internet 2 -- hailed as the "next generation" of the Internet -- a move UB administrators and faculty members say will improve and increase the scope of the university's research activities and keep UB a "player at the table" with the top universities in the country.

Internet 2, officially called the University Corporation for Applications in Internet Development, is the new network being developed by a consortium of 134 universities to support research activities and other data- and voice-communication needs that cannot be handled by the commercial Internet, says Martens.

The VBNs, which links the supercomputing sites at such universities as Cornell, Pittsburgh and Illinois, has been called the "fabric" that weaves the Internet 2 universities together.

"The Internet today is slow, it's bogged down, there's too much traffic and it can't handle all that's going on," says Bucklaew. "If you want to do interactive things or live things, voice or videoconferencing, in real-time, you need greater bandwidth and quality of service" -- guaranteed access to connection capacity that will guarantee sole use of the network link.

"Today's Internet is a lot like a highway, and when it becomes congested, it's slow for everybody," adds Tom Furlani, research assistant professor of chemistry and applications team leader. "The new Internet 2 is going to guarantee lanes between points A and B," like commuter lanes on a highway, he says.

Internet 2 is part of what UB must do to "retain and maintain the viability of the university," says Martens.

"We believe we will have applications and research projects that we wouldn't be able to carry out without the capability of Internet 2," he says. "We need it in order to maintain our competitive position to attract faculty, to attract research and to be a 'name' institution that will also be attractive to undergraduate students."

Voldemar Innus, senior associate vice president for university services who oversees UB's information-technology efforts, agrees that by joining Internet 2, UB has shown "that we are with the leading institutions across the country in infrastructure development and support of technology.

"Internet 2 will immediately provide...a limited number of our most demanding users of the Internet access to that new capability." It also will allow UB "to begin planning its integration into the instructional and research missions of the university," he says.

At an annual cost of substantial magnitude, UB's commitment to Internet 2-level connectivity is "the most important strategic investment and commitment we've made in 97-98, IT-wise," Innus says.

The universities involved in Internet 2 "are essentially the players in computer science and communication networking," notes Stuart Shapiro, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. "Not being there (in Internet 2) is being in the boondocks of universities."

Martens adds that of the 134 universities that are members of Internet 2, 80-85 will be connected to the VBNs with the current round of NSF funding.

In order to qualify for connection to the VBNs, applicants have to be classified as either R-1 or R-2 institutions -- UB is an R-1 top-level research institution -- and provide information to justify the connection, such as collaborations with other universities that require high-speed communication on dedicated bandwidths, Martens says.

Among the projects cited in the NYSERNet application for NSF funding is a proposal by the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at UB in which researchers at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas would control remotely UB's shaking table via "real-time data and video links," says Furlani.

Other UB centers or units with projects cited in the application are the Center for Stochastic Molecular Kinetics; the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, working with the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute; the UB site of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis; the Center for High Performance Computing, and the Center of Excellence for Document Analysis and Recognition (CEDAR).

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University at Buffalo

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