WISCNET, the statewide network connecting Wisconsin’s K-12 schools, became a member of Internet 2, a consortium of 170 universities, industry and government agencies working together to provide a network dedicated to research.
BOth UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee have been a part of the Internet 2 initiative since 1998.
Currently, the “commodity Internet,” which includes the World Wide Web and other resources for public use, is so heavily utilized it is difficult to develop new technologies. The need for a less crowded network brought the consortium together to develop what Brian Rust, communications manager for the UW Division of Information and Technology, calls “an express lane to the Internet.”
“Internet 2 enables a grade school in Green Bay to get content from a member entity in a faster way than they normally could,” Rust said.
David Lois, executive director of WISCNET, said the current network is effective for accessing web pages and some streaming video, but high-end applications such as full motion video are difficult to send over the current network.
“[Internet 2 members] are talking about things like tele-immersion ? that’s actually when they virtually put you in an environment across the network and you’re not only seeing things, but you have sensors attached to you and you actually begin to feel and sense that you’re in a virtual environment,” Lois said.
Andrea Deau, educational technology liaison for WISCNET, said Internet 2 is a better option for more sophisticated applications.
“Trying to move video over the commodity Internet is very difficult,” Deau said. “It’s very choppy and low resolution. [If] you want to link up with other folks and experts around the world, it’s very difficult to do that over the commodity Internet.”
As a member of the Internet 2 consortium, UW-Madison has just begun to realize the network’s potential.
“It has some more network-measuring capabilities,” UW computer science professor Mary Vernon said, “so when you’re performing an experiment ? you can understand why it’s working well or why it’s not working well.”
Deau said a UW-Madison jazz class linked up with a jazz musician out of Chicago through Internet 2 to help teach a class held at Luther’s Blues.
Lois said Internet 2 is not a physical network but an initiative. The actual network Internet 2 is based on is known as Abilene.
“[Abilene] came into being roughly about 1999 to 2000,” Lois said. “Abilene is the actual network moving the traffic in between. The concept from the technology perspective is to make sure you have great big network connections that aren’t used very heavily.”
Lois said Internet 2 is not necessarily about new technology, but is designed to increase cooperation between members.
“Its really not about bits and bites,” he said. “It’s more about providing a network where you can do that so quickly that you can begin to think of new applications between research and educational institutions in the future.”
Although full capabilities have yet to be proven, Deau said the major draw of Internet 2 is its potential to create new uses for the Internet in education.
“I think the big value that we can’t show concrete examples of is that education is going to build it and the types of things that will be on it,” Deau said. “There are applications we can’t even dream up with right now that will be used down the road on this type of a network.”
As of now, Internet 2 is limited to members in the United States. However, Lois said he expects this to change as the initiative gains more members and develops newer technology.
“Internet 2 is just a national initiative,” he said, “just like the Internet was developed in the U.S. and moved out internationally. It very likely will develop into an international thing.”