Two of Canada’s best-known universities are taking part in a global project sponsored by Intel to expand the Internet’s capabilities.

The chipmaker said Tuesday it is working with 60 universities around the world as part of PlanetWeb,

which will provide a global test bed for inventing and testing prototype Web-based applications and services. The network will eventually consist of 1,000 connected servers which researchers will use to distribute their applications.

At the University of Toronto, for example, professor Baochum Li is exploring potential improvements to network performance through the use of overlay networks. These networks take advantage of existing network infrastructure and design protocols in the applications layer to be executed over a wide-area network on each node. This provides a variety of value-added functions to the network, Li said.

To design protocols that reorganize the topology such that the performance — the delay and packet loss of the messages — would be better takes a tremendous amount of research activity, Li said. The experiments require scientists to determine what kind of bottlenecks will occur and which nodes can support each other.

“”We are basically trying to enhance the performance,”” he said. “”Right now the Internet, in terms of performance, is very disappointing.””

At the University of British Columbia, Dr Norm Hutchinson is trying to optimize Internet protocols to speed up operating and facilitate distributed systems and meet the changing needs of clients.

The United States Geological Service, for example, has very accurate mapping data for most of the country, Hutchinson said. Users can choose a trajectory or path online, and the service will retrieve the data from a server and display it as the user moves towards it. As users move at different speeds and require different resolutions depending on the device they are using, the ability to change speeds becomes critical, he said.

“”For us, it’s a test bed so that we can explore these algorithms at a fairly large scale,”” he said. “”It’s much bigger and more geographically dispersed than you could do in a lab.””

The PlanetLab network means researchers can perform actual implementations of their applications, rather than mere simulations. Li said executable code will be deployed to the nodes and run there. Each node reports to the observer or “”debugging”” node, which gives the developer a global view of the bandwidth, delays and all the nodes in the network. Li said he wouldn’t be able to pursue his work without PlanetWeb.

“”It’s impossible,”” he said. “”The only way is to ask around and see if you can open a guest account, things like that. And the guest accounts do not have Intel support in terms of security patches.””

HP Labs, MIT and Harvard are among the other universities involved in PlanetWeb.


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