Alberta institutions to get a gigabit WAN

Universities in Alberta will soon be transferring graphic and video images at speeds 20,000 times faster than the best telephone modems used today.

The Netera Alliance, of Calgary, with Shaw Communications and Telus Advanced Communications are now developing Wnet3, the first Canadian installation of wide-area gigabit Ethernet networking. Netera is a not-for-profit corporation of universities, research institutions, government and small and large private-sector companies facilitating the advanced networking and computing infrastructure for Alberta.

“Wnet3is a major architecture change and network upgrade. Phase one will reconnect all the existing institutions in a new architecture and phase two will extend it to new institutions,” said Ken Hewitt, president of the Netera Alliance.

Wnet3 is evolving from Wnet2, Alberta’s existing advanced Internet. Wnet2 links the universities of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge, plus Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and the Banff Centre via a broadband research network. Wnet2 gives the institutions the educational and research advantages of rapid access to data and computing resources across an Alberta-wide virtual campus. Wnet3 will extend the concept by joining more institutions and moving their fast-growing volume of information exchange 25 times faster than Wnet2.

“Basically, it is about the advancement of Internet technology and we do it, first of all, typically in a research environment and then gradually the things that are developed there become the technologies and the protocols used on the commercial Internet. That’s the model of CA*net3,” Hewitt said.

CA*net3 is a Canada-wide research and development network involving the private and public sector. CA*net3 is managed by CANARIE (Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education), and is connected to regional advanced networks (RANs). In Alberta, the regional advanced network now operating is called Wnet2 and is operated by Netera.

Wnet3 will incorporate four independent optical channels, each which has the capacity to carry a gigabit per second. One channel will be dedicated to carrying the video streams of a multi-campus classroom video network. Capable of carrying 100 high-quality video streams simultaneously, this facility will allow Alberta colleges and universities to share instructors and blend their curricula in ways not previously possible. By isolating the video channel from those channels carrying computer data traffic, Wnet3 will deliver higher audio-visual signal quality than any previous networked videoconferencing technology, Hewitt said.

“Videoconferencing happens right now on the commercial Internet but it’s not very good, it’s jerky, the audio is not great and connections sometimes fail. Advanced Internet has way more bandwidth and it has protocols and things under development where videoconferencing can be developed and experimented with and eventually carried over to the commercial Internet so videoconferencing is one of many, many different things that’ll happen on both Internets,” said Hewitt.

Hewitt added that videoconferencing is just one application being developed. Others include: collaborative computing, remote access, data transfer, multicasting, video serving (a different application than videoconferencing),and IP telephony.

“There is a range of things that all happen on both Internets and some of them can only happen on advanced Internet for the time being,” said Hewitt.

The video channel will initially link the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, NAIT, SAIT and Mount Royal College. New sites will be added during the next year. The launch of the NAIT/SAIT link occurred last month.

The remaining three channels of Wnet3 will include one for commercial commodity Internet traffic, traffic for the MACI (multimedia advanced computational infrastructure in Alberta) project and one spare channel (or dark fibre).