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High-speed network may boost region's economy

From Associated Press
March 28, 2004

By unknown

SUFFOLK, Va. (AP) -- An Internet 100-times faster is being built nationally to transmit enormous amounts of data.

It is called the National LambdaRail, and Virginia's Hampton Roads region hopes to climb aboard.

Experts say the area would become a magnet for research, defense and commercial dollars. The first test is scheduled for summer, when Norfolk's Old Dominion University and its Virginia Modeling Analysis and Simulation Center plans to connect with Suffolk's Joint Forces Command in a grid of their own.

The grid has two key features. It uses ultra-high-speed fiber-optic lines, and it connects computers at different locations to create a virtual supercomputer. The connected machines could, for example, run large-scale battle simulations for Joint Forces Command, a focal point for such military wargames.

If successful, the grid also would serve as Hampton Roads' gateway to the National LambdaRail.

"It's been bandied about for two or three years, but now the technology is at a point where it's low-risk, high-gain, and the investment doesn't have to be that big," said Mark Phillips, senior research scientist at VMASC and director of its Battle Lab.

Phillips said the local grid alone would be attractive to defense contractors and high-tech companies even before it's tied into the national grid. National LambdaRail, a nonprofit organization which oversees the grid, would admit Hampton Roads institutions if they have valid research needs and can afford to support the grid with their own infrastructure.

Local officials say they are ready, and believe there will be an immediate return on their investment in terms of jobs.

"It will provide another selling point for Hampton Roads," said Tom Gordy, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Edward Schrock, R-2nd District.

A consortium of academic institutions and Cisco Systems Inc. is pioneering the National LambdaRail. Several Virginia colleges have signed on, raising money to build a node of the grid in Washington, D.C., to allow in-state institutions access.

"We can't compete for high-tech entities unless we have this infrastructure," said Jeff Crowder, director of strategic initiatives at Virginia Tech and a member of the National LambdaRail oversight committee. "They will go where this infrastructure exists."

But questions linger about the grid's cost, usage rules and operation. Security and privacy are still issues with grid computing, said Marty Humphrey, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Virginia and a member of the Global Grid Forum, which promotes grid computing.

"The security mechanism is in many ways solid," Humphrey said. "But you have to understand that we are trying to do things people haven't done before."

Local officials hope defense, telecom and high-tech companies would want to locate jobs and infrastructure near the network. But even proponents acknowledge they'll have to convince participants that their data is safe and secure.

"It boils down to contractual agreements," Gordy said.

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Information from: The Virginian-Pilot

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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