Maritime provinces pair for research grid

An ethernet network launched Monday will connect research institutions in New Brunswick and PEI to each other at gigabit speeds.

The NB/PEI Research Grid, officially opened by New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, is an $11.4-million collaborative effort between the provinces that will take advantage

of it, as well as other public sector interests and members of the NB/PEI Educational Computer Network. The money was spent not only on establishing the network but on hardware within some of the institutions to take advantage of it.

The grid will initially connect about 10 points across the provinces, including universities, colleges and National Research Council sites. Schools, hospitals and businesses that conduct research and qualify for its use may be added to the network at a later date.

The project was originally proposed more than two years ago and has been in a test phase since last summer. The PEI leg of the network has been operational for some time, but was only recently connected to New Brunswick.

“”It took a lot time to put together the business model for all of these players and convince all of these folks that a high-end research network of this magnitude was something that the Maritimes needed to invest in,”” said Paul Hatcher, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Group Telecom, the company that helped set up the network.

Now that the research grid is up and running, institutions like the University of New Brunswick can look forward to connectivity improvements of several orders of magnitude. The previous network that connected UNB with other universities across the province was 30 megabits “”and that’s not nearly fast enough,”” said UNB’s chief information officer Greg Sprague, who is also on the board of the NB/PEI ECN and is the regional representative for CANARIE Inc., Canada’s not-for-profit Internet agency.

The improved network is 40 times faster than its predecessor and can handle 52 million voice lines. It should help universities in the Maritimes attract new faculty, said Sprague. “”They want high speed networks so that they can work with their colleagues around the world.

“”Whether it’s a telescope in Hawaii or a genome database in Texas . . . you typically want to access to that kind of information, and you need high speed networks to download, to mine, to process, to do research on those kinds of large databases.””

The research grid runs six fibre rings and has dual paths for built-in redundancy. If one is disrupted for any reason, the second will shoulder the bandwidth load.

Now that increased bandwidth is available Sprague is expected the amount of traffic across the grid to skyrocket. The one gigabit ethernet network should suffice for several years to come, he said. Should those needs be exceeded, the grid can scale to up to 10 gigabits.

The NB/PEI ECN was formed in 1970 and initially ran a network across the provinces at 1200 baud. “”So we’re now a million times that,”” said Sprague. “”We’ve been promoting sharing between the universities, sharing of networks . . . sharing of skills and ideas, so this is just one more piece of this joint venture.””

The Internal networks within some of the institutions that are connected to the grid may also be upgraded to take advantage of the increase in bandwidth.

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