Kentucky Speeds into the Future with Internet 2

By Alicia P. Gregory
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Tomorrow’s Internet is happening now and happening fast, thanks to $1.4 million in federal funding for the University of Kentucky. And across Kentucky, doctors, patients, medical students, teachers, and scientists will all benefit.

This direct appropriation from the Health Resources and Services Administration, secured by U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, will allow UK to install a state-of-the-art network connection to Internet 2—a 10-gigabit network. This connection is 10 times faster than the current 1 gigabit access available across Kentucky.

What does this mean? Kentuckians will be able to share information at the fastest speed available, explains Doyle Friskney, who has served as UK’s associate vice president for information technology for half of the 24 years he’s worked at the university. Speed has big implications for the future of health care. “This money will allow UK to partner with health-care professionals in rural hospitals and clinics to share electronic patient records, including digital X-rays and CT scans, and do video teleconferencing to get consultations on treatment options. Right now only doctors in big cities have these capabilities.”

The Internet 2 network also will enable UK’s medical colleges—Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry, Public Health, Health Sciences, and Pharmacy—to deliver online education programs to meet, in part, the growing need for health professionals in Appalachia.

James W. Tracy, vice president for research, who leads UK’s $300-million-dollar-a-year research enterprise and serves as principal investigator for the appropriation, emphasizes that this funding will boost the university’s efforts in translational medicine. “The network will make it possible for UK researchers to more quickly move their health-care discoveries from the lab to the doctor’s office. New technologies to diagnose and treat illnesses will get to patients faster.”

But the benefits aren’t limited to health care. “The enhanced connections provided by Internet 2 will increase our faculty’s eligibility for advanced research grants from NIH and NSF, and will allow our scientists to participate in and contribute to national collaborative projects,” says Tracy.

Friskney points out, “This will ripple over into other areas, like education and agriculture.” For instance, a third-grade teacher in Harlan County could consult with a special education expert at UK, or a College of Education class on campus could watch a teacher in Letcher County lead a math lesson. “This could give teachers, and medicine or pharmacy students on rotation across the state, a way to collaborate with their mentors at UK and open access to all of the online resources at the university,” says Friskney. He emphasizes that the physical infrastructure to do this is already in place, thanks to Kentucky’s current $20 million annual commitment to high-speed networks. “Kentucky hasn’t taken a back seat to other states in terms of networking.”

Friskney describes the three current statewide networks: KIH-2, KPEN and KyRON. The Kentucky Information Highway-2 (KIH-2) connects all of the state’s K-12 schools. The Kentucky Postsecondary Education Network (KPEN) links colleges and universities, adult-education learning centers and KET. And the Kentucky Regional Optical Network (KyRON) unites UK and the University of Louisville to the main Internet connector in Louisville that links Kentucky to the rest of the world.

“This new funding means we can join these three networks together, ramp up the speed from 1 to 10 gigabits, and put in a dedicated, future-focused research line,” says Friskney.

He explains that the Internet 2 network will have two parts: a production line and a research line. The production line, a connection that will always be “live” (think of the dial tone you get when you pick up the phone) and is currently 1 gigabit, will be upgraded to 10 gigabits. “This line will work like the Internet works today—you link together a series of servers, and the speed of that connection determines how fast you can go.”

The research line is something new. “Our researchers will be able to use it and study it,” Friskney says, setting up an example. A UK researcher modeling air flow over a turbine blade is working with an engineer at Vanderbilt. He needs 5 gigabits to transfer a large set of data. That UK scientist would simply dial up a dedicated, “point-to-point” connection between himself and the researcher at Vanderbilt to transfer the information. And because this is a point-to-point connection, Friskney explains, the research line wouldn’t be tied up by the activity of everyone else on campus.

“In anticipation of the Internet moving toward point-to-point connections, computer scientists at UK like Jim Griffioen and Ken Calvert will be doing research on this network to prove that this type of network is what we need for the future.”

Internet 2 diagram

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