Volume 9, Number 12 March 1, 2002

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New computer network ‘will benefit all’

Rick Bunt

A just-announced three-year, $15-million upgrade of the University’s computer network is "a campus project of unparalleled scope and impact", according to its leader.

Associate Vice-President of Information & Communications Technology Rick Bunt says the project, called "USR-net" (for U of S Research Network), will not only give a tremendous boost to research-related computer capacity, but will also "bring wide-sweeping changes" that will help all faculty, staff and students.

"The USR-net project will provide significant benefits to every user of the campus network by improving the capacity, performance, availability and reliability of the network, and by improving connectivity to other universities and research organizations in Canada and abroad," Bunt says.

"It’s not just for the Canadian Light Source (CLS) or for the sciences — it’s for everybody."

"It will benefit not only our research, but also our teaching, our learning, and our business services as well," he says.

The planning phase of the USR-net project will start immediately. The project’s first $4.8-million grant was announced Jan. 30 by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI). Bunt says the $15-million total for the project will include matching grants and University contributions.

He says the current computer network, built up since 1985, is now a major part of the University’s infrastructure.

"Seventeen years of development have provided us with a pervasive fibre-optic network reaching more than 40 buildings and connecting more than 7,000 desktop computers and servers."

Bunt says 3,000 of the computers have 100-Megabyte-per-second network service, 2,000 have dedicated 10-Mps service, and the remaining 2,000 have just "shared 10-Mps thin-wire Ethernet network service, which delivers much less bandwidth than is required for many contemporary applications."

"Although our network is deservedly a source of pride," Bunt says, "there are new requirements emerging from our research programs that cannot be met."

The CFI grant and additional funding will allow USR-net to boost the University’s ability to provide fast, reliable and secure transfer of large amounts of data, and also provide for remote program execution, audio- and video-conferencing, and access to shared research services and facilities.

Bunt says by three years from now, USR-net will mean all connected desktop computers and servers, for all academic and administrative users, will have a minimum 100-Mps network connection — and up to 1-Gigabyte-per-second connection where needed. Those computers that can’t be upgraded to more than 10-Mps service will still be supported by the Information & Technology Services (ITS) Division until they’re replaced.

"USR-net will mean faster service to both the Internet and CA*Net, and we will be putting more capacity in place to support much higher volumes of traffic," Bunt says. It will also include technology to enable reliable operation around-the-clock and state-of-the-art tools for network management.

Bunt says other specific results of the USR-net project will include:

• 2,000 new network connections will be provided to U of S researchers.

• An additional 60 high-performance servers with "gigabit" connections will be provided — some in the campus computer centre and others in research labs across campus.

• To handle the additional traffic generated by upgraded computers and servers, a new 10-Gps network ‘backbone’ will be installed.

• For better reliability, every area of the U of S network will be connected to the network backbone in two locations, and redundant paths will be provided for all network traffic — reducing the impact of equipment failures and maintenance down-time.

• To meet the needs of national and international high-speed, high-bandwidth networks, a connection to CA*Net 4 will be provided at between 2.5 and 10 Gps.

Bunts says although he is principal investigator on the USR-net project, the success of the CFI proposal was thanks to the project team and also to campus researchers who provided details of their work as support for the CFI bid.

The project team includes: Julia Taylor, Director of Research Services; Ed Pokraka, Director of ITS; Glenn Hollinger, ITS Manager of Network Services; Dave Bocking, Manager of Computer Facilities in the Dept. of Computer Science; and Tony Whitworth, Vice-President of Finance & Administration.

Researchers who provided information in support of the CFI proposal, and who are co-investigators in the USR-net project, include: Derek Eager, Julita Vassileva and Carl Gutwin from the Dept. of Computer Science; Katie Mitchell and Alex Moewes from the Dept. of Physics & Engineering Physics; Roger Pierson and Louis Delbaere from the College of Medicine; Bill Crosby from the National Research Council’s Plant Biotechnology Institute; and Michael Bancroft from the Canadian Light Source.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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