Northwestern Plots Next Internet Wave - University is part of consortium bringing video to Web

February 1999

Reprinted from Chicago Software News
Vol. 3 No. 5

By Ed Cooper

The next innovative stage of Internet communications is currently being developed at Northwestern University in Evanston as part of a consortium of eight academic institutions under the title Internet 2 Digital Video Initiative. The other principal participants who are already utilizing this technology to produce videos are: the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana, Penn. State, Ohio State, Indiana University and the Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago.

Prof. Joel Mambretti, Ph.D., is project director of the International Center for Advanced Internet Development (iCAIR). He also works with Jim Chen, director of the video lab, and Susan Andrews, Director of Communications for Northwestern University Information Technology.

Prior to beginning his present position, Mambretti was director of Advanced and High Performance Research Computing Networking Services at the University of Chicago. In these roles, he provided a broad range of information technology services and facilities for leading-edge research throughout the University.

For the past five years, Mambretti has also been the director of the Metropolitan Research and Education Network (MREN), an advanced high-performance network linking several national laboratories (including Fermi and Argonne).

The umbrella organization for this project is the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID). The principal underwriter for the project is IBM.

Mambretti said the project is dedicated to developing digital communication for the 21st century. The undertaking was announced at a conference in San Francisco in September 1998. The initial focus of this endeavor will be academic research and video conferencing, with the added ability to use animation and simulations.

What differentiates "Internet 2" from what is presently available is that it will make possible realtime access to video without the need to download — since the video can be stored in a server anywhere in the world and called up from a personal computer at the convenience of the user. Already, some of the dormitories at Northwestern are set up to receive video this way. "This permits more self-paced learning. The students can start and stop where they want," said Andrews.

Using Internet 2 technology, the video one is able to see is close to television quality. Another advantage is that one can simultaneously read text and watch video.

Working in conjunction with industry, government and other research and networking organizations, the project is addressing the following challenges that will face the next generation of university networks, according to Mambretti:

  • First, and most importantly, creating and sustaining a leading edge network for the national research community.
  • Second, directing network development efforts to enable a new generation of applications to fully exploit the capabilities of broadband networks.
  • Third, working to rapidly transfer new network servers and applications to the broader Internet community, both nationally and internationally.

This project is also linked with research in other countries including Singapore. For example, on November 17, 1998, Northwestern made a presentation to the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council. This was recorded off a computer screen by an individual in Singapore with a common video camera, stored in the server in Singapore, and made available for remote playback on demand in Chicago.

The University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID) has also launched the Abilene project, which is designed to support and encourage the development of applications by UCAID university members and, in particular, to support Internet 2.

The Annenberg Foundation is underwriting a project on PBS that is using this system for beginning Spanish programming. "They are willing to work with us because they want to learn this as well," said Chen, director of the video laboratory.

Mambretti says he expects this technology to be available for broad public use in two years and for limited business use by the end of this year.

Last Updated: 18 February 2010