Emory Report

November 2, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 10

New high-speed network connection will help Emory researchers move into fast lane

In the world of things cyber, there is fast and then there is fast. And thanks to a recent grant from the National Science Foundation, Emory's connectivity to the information superhighway is ready to kick up a few gears.

In August the NSF announced the latest round of research universities (of which Emory was one) to be awarded two-year grants of up to $350,000 for the purpose of connecting themselves to the foundation's very-high-performance Backbone Network Service (vBNS), a five-year, $50 million effort to revive the commercial Internet's original mission as a high-speed research network. Emory now ranks as one of 128 institutions nationwide who have received the grant, enabling them to connect to a network that can deliver data much faster than the Internet.

"They're talking about trying to get up to multi-gigabit-per-second (one billion bits) speeds," said Peter Day, technical development specialist for the Information Technology division and a co-principal investigator of Emory's vBNS project. To illustrate, the typical connection speed of a home modem is between 28,800 and 56,600 bits per second, and the University currently enjoys a 12 megabit-per-second (12 million bits) connection to the Internet.

Emory won the NSF grant by citing on-campus, "meritorious research" projects that would stand to benefit greatly from the vBNS connection. For example, Luigi Marzilli, Dobbs Professor of Chemistry, is working in collaborative molecular visualization, design and analysis; Keiji Morokuma, professor of chemistry and director of the Emerson Center for Scientific Computation, is working on the remote control of catalyst/reactant reaction simulations using supercomputer facilities; Xiaodong Cheng, professor of biochemistry, is studying remote examination of chrystallographic data in real time and collaborative drug design; and Kathy Miner, associate dean of the School of Public Health, is looking into possibilities for distance learning programs in her school.

"We will be able to visualize molecules in real time, look at the structures of the materials and discuss our data, which relates to how anti-cancer drugs interact with the molecular target," said Marzilli, who is collaborating in his research with Karen Brewer, associate professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech, which already has a vBNS connection. "We can do this now separately, but [we can't] look at the same molecule at the same time."

Though the high-speed connectivity is only a part of his research, Marzilli estimated that vBNS capabilities could increase the productivity of his work by as much as 10 percent, since it would eliminate the frequent need for him and Brewer to travel to the other's campus.

Since Marzilli's project and the others prompted the NSF to give the grant to Emory, their vBNS connection will take top priority. But once those labs are connected, plans call for the high-speed network to slowly work its way through campus. "At some point in the future we would expect others to be able to connect," Day said.

To hook up to vBNS, Emory will take advantage of the existing connection at nearby Georgia Tech, rather than directly to the "backbone" through a commercial network like MCI. This has several benefits, Day said, not the least of which is price. Also, Tech is part of an existing high-speed connection with the University of Georgia and Georgia State University, and Emory can become part of that loop.

Emory's vBNS connection will utilize both existing fiber optic infrastructure and new lines and equipment. ITD has ordered the router necessary to connect, but it will take some time before anyone on campus has access. "Right now we're continuing with planning," said Ramous Fields, director of ITD network operations and co-principal investigator on the vBNS project. Fields said it could be anywhere from 30 to 90 days before the router arrives.

One thing that is clear, however, is that the vBNS network will not be slowed by data on the regular Emory network. "We're trying to keep vBNS purely a high-speed information network and not mix it with a lot of our own local University traffic," Fields said. "As part of the grant, we're responsible for quality of service. The [meritorious project researchers] need a certain bandwidth dedicated to their applications, and we need to ensure that we have an architecture and infrastructure that will deliver that quality of service."

--Michael Terrazas

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