AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts computer science professor Donald Towsley is taking part in a federal effort to build a new Internet that would be 100 to 1,000 times faster than the current network - so fast it could transmit the contents of the 30-volume Encyclopedia Brittanica in one second, scientists say. Towsley has received a two-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to fund the project. It is one of 27 projects nationwide aimed at creating a Next Generation Internet (NGI), funded with a total of $50 million in federal dollars.
Researchers hope that such a network, dubbed Internet2, or I2 for short, will be more reliable than the current network, especially in critical communications such as weather forecasting and telemedicine, in which images are sent via computer to physicians hundreds or thousands of miles away, who then use the images to help in reaching a diagnosis.
Towsley’s research focuses on "multicasting," a highly efficient way of sending information via computer to more than one recipient. His most recent work has been exploring the use of multicasting to automatically monitor how well a network is operating. He has pursued the project with UMass professors James Kurose, also of the computer science department, and Joseph Horowitz, of the mathematics and statistics department, along with colleagues at AT&T and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
There is great room for improvement in network performance, according to Towsley. "Often data gets delayed or thrown away," he said. "Our project will result in tools that will allow one to identify where in the network this occurs."
He explains multicasting this way: until recently, sending information to more than one user at a time required sending an individual copy to each person, taking up time and space on the increasingly crowded Internet. "Multicasting is as if the post office had to deliver 1,000 letters to people in 20 different cities, and could take one copy to each city, make the appropriate numbers of copies, then distribute them," he said.
"Multicasting allows a sender to send one copy and have the network make copies of it as needed so that each recipient gets a copy," he added. In automatic network monitoring, each "recipient" is a specially programmed computer that records the behavior of the data sent in a "trace." The traces of all of the recipients are then analyzed and compared to produce a detailed description of where losses and delays occur in the network, he explained.