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InfobITS logo, volume 7, number 1, spring 2001.


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2001: A Network Odyssey
by David Lassner

In 2001 our UH network backbones are taking a major leap into the next generation of networking. ITS has four major backbone projects in progress now. They'll be reported on in more detail as each becomes real, so this brief message is intended as an overview of each project and how they fit together.

In addition to the backbone work, which is necessary but not necessarily visible to most students and faculty, work is underway on all campuses to leverage the backbones to support our basic academic missions. Most campuses are continuing to actively upgrade their basic infrastructure and drive higher-speed network connections to all building, classrooms, labs, and offices. Increased use of Internet-based video for streaming of instructional content, videoconferencing, and distance learning is one of the driving applications for these upgrades. And at the edge of the wired network some campuses are beginning to deploy the wireless 802.11b technology that has emerged as the multi-vendor standard for wireless Local Area Networking.

Most fundamental to the interisland activities of the University of Hawaii system is the long-awaited digitization of the Hawaii Interactive Television System (HITS). HITS was designed and built over a decade ago as an analog video system to support statewide distance learning. Overwhelmed by success, the capacity of the system has been saturated for several years. In addition, the University needs higher speed data connections between the islands than is available through our current primary source of interisland capacity, the State's HAWAIIAN microwave network. The digitization of HITS will not only provide capacity to support those distance learning programs that choose interactive video as their preferred mode of instruction, but it will also provide desperately needed additional data connectivity. Applications that require this new capacity include the increasing use of Internet-based distance learning throughout the University, systemwide access to the new Web-based Voyager library system (see related article on the Voyager System), and Internet access as well as academic and administrative connectivity.

When completed, we will have 155 Mbps available between each of Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu, with extensions to Molokai and Lanai. Each link will be a single shared connection using TCP/IP, the native protocol that underlies the Internet. The new system will use Internet-based video and leverage the work of Internet2 to integrate high-quality video and data on the same links by giving priority to video streams (Quality of Service or QoS) and sending only one copy of each video stream in each direction (multicast). Our next generation interisland network will also open up many possibilities for the use of Internet-based videoconferencing (e.g., H.323) between our campuses and beyond as these technologies enjoy increasingly widespread use.

On Oahu, working with the DOE and State, we are currently implementing an upgrade of our fiber optic-based Institutional Network (I-Net) to use Wave Division Multiplexing (WDM) technology. WDM multiplies the amount of data that can be carried on fiber optic cables by sending information in multiple frequencies or "colors" of light on the same fiber. With this technology UH will be able to interconnect our campuses at gigabit ethernet speeds while the DOE and State use different colors on the same fiber to meet their internal networking requirements. For UH, this will permit us to support high-quality digital video as well as expanded general network access, and we will have a simple upgrade path for additional capacity at any time based on needs, costs, and available funding. We are already planning with our I-Net partners to bring this technology to the neighbor island I-Nets that interconnect UH, DOE, and State facilities on each island later this year. And we are pursuing opportunities to obtain access to interisland fiber in an affordable way so that we can use this technology to expand our interisland capacity to meet projected future needs after the microwave capacity is exhausted.

On the Manoa campus, where we have over 15,000 network devices now active, we have initiated implementation of a new campus backbone. Our 9-year old FDDI technology has served us well and, surprisingly, its capacity is not yet exhausted. But the equipment has become less reliable over time, the design has more possible points-of-failure than modern approaches, the backbone's capacity cannot be increased using the current architecture, and it is more difficult to take advantage of the Internet2 technologies such as QoS and multicast mentioned above. The FDDI backbone is being gradually replaced by a dual-homed switched backbone that will provide greater redundancy and improve reliability. It will also be easily scalable to increase capacity to specific buildings, floors of buildings, and even parts of floors of buildings based on actual usage requirements and funding availability. As the new architecture is deployed we will also be moving to use of the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). This will eliminate the arduous, error-prone, and resource-wasteful approach of having to assign and manage detailed IP address and related information for every PC.

Finally, looking beyond Hawaii, we have two major projects underway to increase our external Internet capacity. UH was one of the few major Internet users to have enjoyed adequate capacity during the recent statewide Internet capacity shortage. But we are now approaching the limits of the comfort zone for our current links. Fortunately, plans set in motion several years ago are about to reach fruition. UH acquired capacity in advance on each of the two new major transpacific fiber optic cables passing through Hawaii. The Southern Cross Cable Network (SCCN) connecting Australia/New Zealand and the U.S. mainland via Hawaii was recently activated and UH will have our capacity online by midyear. The Japan-US Cable Network (JUSCN) has been delayed but should be operational by the end of this year, by which time UH will have a second major increment of capacity available.

Participation in these transpacific projects has an additional benefit. Hawaii is again emerging as a hub of international academic networking. The Asia-Pacific Advanced Network (APAN), which is the Asia-Pacific counterpart to the Internet2 project, will be establishing a high-speed connection from Japan through Hawaii. The Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet) will also connect to the U.S. mainland and with the rest of APAN via Hawaii. This kind of project not only enhances UH's connectivity by providing more direct paths between Hawaii and the Pacific Rim to support our education and research activities, but it also provides additional redundant paths to improve the availability of our external network connectivity in case of any major outages.

It will be a busy year for our networking crews. But with these major projects coming together, 2001 is a vital step in the networking future of the University of Hawaii system.


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Updated: April 04, 2001