Freeing Up the Net

By Kari Molvar '00 / January / February 2005
May 3rd, 2007
Is it possible for the Internet to get maxed out? Perhaps not, but to ensure that Rhode Island researchers and students don’t experience costly delays in moving data over the network, officials from Brown, the University of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Network for Educational Technology (RIDE) have plugged into a newer, alternative network called Internet2. The move will also help create a less crowded conventional Internet that could make Rhode Island more attractive to dot-com companies looking for a home.

The effort, called the Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network (OSHEAN), isn’t available to just anybody. It works by diverting traffic going to edu, gov, or org domain names away from the conventional Internet to Internet2, which is essentially an enormous electronic bridge carrying Internet traffic to and from research organizations. By doing so, OSHEAN also frees up the older Internet to handle more and faster commercial traffic.

"If I want to send an e-mail to Northwestern," says George Loftus, Brown’s director of technology, "OSHEAN routes my message through an Internet2 pipeline because I’m contacting an educational institution. If I buy a CD off, OSHEAN sends my request through the commercial Internet." The routing is invisible to the user, who may notice only a faster, less erratic connection.

The idea for OSHEAN arose from a series of discussions among Loftus; Michael Shaughnessy, the director of technical operations at RINET, the nonprofit provider of free Internet access to Rhode Island teachers; and Paul Gandel, vice provost of information at URI. The three agreed that researchers in the state needed more bandwidth to make the Internet faster for data transfers.

Not surprisingly, Internet2 is turning into a test bed for new ideas that will eventually be transferred to the original Internet. Large corporations such as Microsoft are looking to projects like OSHEAN for ways to develop a faster Internet. "Basically," Loftus notes, "companies want to apply our ideas to the commercial Internet and make money off it."

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January / February 2005