Monday, January 10, 2000

Alliance wants to catch next Net wave

Colleges join tech firms on faster Internet2

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A new alliance of state colleges and computer-tech firms wants to put Ohio at the center of the next Internet revolution.

        The group, known as the Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center, plans to tap a very new, very fast computer net work with hopes it will someday transform the current Internet.

        This fledgling network, called Internet2, links research centers at 158 universities in the United States, including the University of Cincinnati.

        Internet2 is thousands of times faster than the Internet most home computers access. As universities find new ways to use it, ITEC hopes to turn those discoveries into money-making business ventures that create thousands of new jobs in Ohio.

        “Ohio, in many respects has been behind the rest of the country in benefiting from the Internet,” said Mike Brown, spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents. “But right now, Ohio is in the front row to see what (Internet2) can do.”

        The Internet of the future could let consumers download a movie from a Hollywood studio website in seconds, eliminating trips to the video store. Business executives in different states could hold inexpensive live-television-quality video conferences.

        ITEC will show a more profound use of Internet2 technolo gy in a promotional event set in Columbus Tuesday.

        A high-speed computer link set up in a downtown office building will let people watch an Ohio State University surgeon perform a laparoscopic surgery at the school's medical center. Another surgeon will monitor the procedure from downtown, offering suggestions to and getting responses from his distant colleague.

        This “telemedicine” demonstration will show how Internet2 is easier and less expensive than complicated satellite hookups. But the real goal is to show Internet2 as an economic development tool.

        Ohio has a great opportunity to make money off the new net says Doug Gale, director of OARnet, a not-for-profit organization that offers Internet hookups to state agencies and schools. Mr. Gale and OARnet will also lead ITEC.

        A faster Internet will need new companies to develop the programs and hardware necessary to make it work. If Ohio universities are first in developing these new tools, Mr. Gale said businesses that could make a profit from them would naturally start up here.

        Mr. Gale pointed to Cisco Systems Inc., a multibillion-dollar San Jose corporation that makes Internet routers.

        “I can remember when they had a dozen employees,” he said. “People forget just how fast things can change on the Internet.”

        ITEC's challenge is to find ways to link and support Ohio universities' Internet2 projects. At the University of Cincinnati, researchers are already using their Internet2 hookup for a variety of tasks.

        Music Professor Mara Helmuth is using it to create ensemble sounds and songs with colleagues in other states. Bruce Aronow, an associate professor and genetics researcher, plans to use it to transfer huge data files on genes and to discuss them with far-off specialists.

        “There's a tremendous amount of data on human genetics, so much that it swamps our computers,” Mr. Aronow said. “We really need to be able to collaborate with people who have expertise in certain areas — on the fly.”

        Either of these projects could generate an idea or a spinoff program that a business could market and sell, said Fred Siff, UC's vice president for information technology.

        “It could happen in Ohio as much as it could anywhere else,” Mr. Siff said.

        But with so much potential profit at stake, it's clear that other states will want to grow their own Internet 2 industries. Businesses like Cisco Systems may be better equipped to capitalize on Internet2 discoveries, no matter where they are made.

        But Mr. Gale points to Ohio's ITEC alliance as an advantage other states don't yet have.

        “It's like a hundred yard dash,” Mr. Gale said of the growing Internet2 race. “Fortunately, we have a 20-yard head start.”


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