National Net '91 Convenes in Washington, D.C.
By Ellen Hoffman
The challenge to convince the public of the critical need for national networking was key focus of the opening speech of Net '91 this year. Citing an example of fundraising efforts at his own institution to build a new campus network, Peter Likens, Lehigh University president noted that when it came to donors, "no one wanted to put their name on buried cables." But he also noted that through many educational efforts, the network was funded and put in place.
National network linked to healthy economy
At a national level, Likens suggested that it was critical "to make people understand the economic impact of what we are doing." He went on to stress that the national network was a key to a healthy national economy. With the national network in place, the U.S. will be able to demonstrate its greatest strengths by being able "to compete in a global society that values knowledge above all else."
"Towards a National Information Infrastructure" was the theme at Net '91 in Washington, D.C. on March 20-22. Over 400 representatives from colleges and universities, industry and government met to hear sessions on the status and future of national educational and research networking.
Sponsored by EDUCOM, this year's sessions were marked by a positive sense of accomplishment due to the success of the NSFNET programs as well as optimism for the future in the light of pending congressional legislation and budget recommendations providing new support for national networking from the Executive Branch.
T-3 connectivity for demonstrations
The NSFNET partnership provided T-3 connectivity to conference demonstration rooms, where five applications showcased the new high speed capabilities. (See "T3 Demos" on page 4.)
With the continued growth of NSFNET, the network's high speed technologies, and the increasing numbers of attached institutions, EDUCOM's President Ken King recognized this major national network as "the Interim National Research and Education Network (NREN)" in his closing plenary address.
NSF committed to national networking
The future of the NREN appears promising based on speeches during two of the plenary sessions. The National Science Foundation's new director, Walter E. Massey, promised the audience that NSF will remain committed to national networking and recognizes this program as one of the highest priorities for future funding and growth.
In an earlier address, Eugene Wong, associate director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted the commitment of the Executive Branch to national networking, and detailed the program recommendations for the High Performance Computing and Communications initiative (HPCC). This program is described in the report, Grand Challenges: High Performance Computing and Communications.
$638.3 million recommended for FY 1992
For Fiscal Year 1992, the executive branch has recommended a total of $638.3 million for the HPCC, a 30 percent increase in agency spending for computer and communications research and development over FY 91. According to Wong, a primary goal of the HPCC is "pushing the technology to its limits in terms of speed, capacity, reliability and usability."
Wong described the initiative as the foundation for meeting the grand challenges of science. These grand challenges include research into global climate modeling, which can lead to more accurate forecasting of severe weather events, and human genome studies that may result in understanding diseases such as cancer or AIDS.
Provision for high-speed national network
Included in the HPCC program is $91.9 million for provision of a high speed digital national network. This funding will be distributed among the various federal agencies. The HPCC report recommends that the NREN be implemented within this networking program and further urges that the National Science Foundation coordinate activities for NREN deployment.
Wong noted that the HPCC represented a strategic investment for the nation to obtain economic gains, meet national needs, and further, to bring "spiritual" dividends to the nation.
"The program will inspire the gifted and talented of a new generation," Wong said. He noted that historically, computing has been a field dominated by the young. With a national focus provided on the HPCC and meeting the grand challenges, the nation will promote a youthful enthusiasm and energy within its national culture.
Other Net '91 sessions covered multiple applications that rely on national networking, gigabit networking research, international connections, user interfaces, network connections for K-12 education, the Federal Networking Council and the Internet Engineering Task Force.
Congressional bills discussed
In a breakout session on Legislative Activities, several House and Senate staff members described three bills now before Congressional committees. The bill which has received the most attention is Senate Bill 272, introduced by Senator Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), which authorizes the NREN. This bill is now co-sponsored by 21 Senators and is expected to be reported out of committee within the next few weeks.
With Net '91 over, planning is already underway for Net '92, scheduled for March 25-27, 1992, again in Washington, D.C.
The text of the Senate Bill is available on line via anonymous FTP from nis.nsf.net. The directory is nsfnet.
The report, Grand Challenges, is available at no charge from:
Committee on Physical, Mathematical, and Engineering Sciences
c/o National Science Foundation
1800 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20550
Taken from The Link Letter, Vol. 4 No. 1, March/April 1991.