FutureNet will improve learning at Georgia Tech

by Zellyn Hunter
Assistant Editor

Did you notice people laying cables the other day outside of the College of Computing and the MiRC? Well, that's about the most you'll actually see of FutureNet, the new networking backbone at Georgia Tech. What you will see, though, are a host of exciting new technologies that will be possible once the network is in place.

Dean Peter Freeman
FutureNet is quite simply a technological backbone, linking together the various buildings on the Tech campus. As Peter Freeman, Dean of the College of Computing and Executive Sponsor of FutureNet, puts it, the network itself will be "about as visible as water mains," but its effects certainly will not. The capability to service virtually every room in every building on the Tech campus with electronic audio, video, and data will push us onto the cutting edge of technology. (Ironically, one of the "companies bringing it to us" is in fact AT&T, along with other sponsors of the 1996 Olympic Games.)

The fiber-optic network has an incredibly large capacity. Although a single line is enough to service a building, most will have 12 singe-mode and 12 multi-mode cables! Departments that need more bandwidth will have more than that even - for example, the College of Computing will have 48 of each type! Within buildings, connectivity will depend on departmental needs. The main FutureNet backbone will feed into networks within the buildings.

One of the reasons for increased capacity is the use of ATM technology. ATM uses small packets to support audio, video and data transfer over the same networks at high speed. Also, since ATM is not tied to a specific means of transfer, networks can consist of a variety of underlying technologies. In other words, communication between the main fiber backbone and ethernet within buildings, for example, is virtually seamless.

By the Olympics, all the residence halls, and at least 22 other buildings will be connected to the network. Since there are at least 30 residence halls, that brings the total up to 50 or so. Considering the fact that there are only 150 or so buildings on campus, including toolsheds, parking decks, etc., the coverage will be extensive. 10BaseT outlet adaptor

Since many are concerned about the terribly short lifetime that emerging technology has, FutureNet has been designed to last. The basic wiring should last at least fifteen to twenty years, and the equipment on the end of the wires is replaceable. For instance, ACOG will put its own machines on the ends of the fiber during the Olympics. The only area that may become outdated a little more quickly is the wiring within the dorm rooms, which should last at least five or ten years.

FutureNet is already affecting most of us who live on campus. From a dorm room, a student can type in a terminal window, have Netscape open, have a programming environment in another terminal window, and use RealAudio to listen to music.

Eventually, there's a good chance that telephone and TV will be digital. Imagine tele-conferencing from your dorm room. Many lectures at Tech are already televised, and tutors are starting to do problems by request over the television network. Greater possibilities will exist when we have the capability to send video to individual rooms. We're going to have much of the network in place within the next year, so it's most probably going to affect you.

There is currently about $8 million worth of construction underway. This will come from two places. About 1/2 of the money was allocated by the Georgia Legislature. The other half comes from ACOG, and their sponsors. ACOG is going to have the whole campus wired during the Olympic games, so Tech is working to coordinate spending and investment so that we get the maximum gain afterwards. Temporary, above-ground fiber does us no good at all. Basically, we're laying the fiber that we need, and renting it to ACOG during the games. If they need increased connectivity in places we don't, then they'll find temporary solutions. Overall, Tech gains a tremendous amount.

To get involved, students should look over the FutureNet Homepage to get a better understanding of what's involved. Then, email the people in charge, and ask if they need help with anything. However, the real chance for involvement is going to come after the Olympics, as Tech explores the potential that this technical backbone will give. The Future Computing Environments group, which is interested in applying new technology to education, looks to capitalize on this most.

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Last Modified: Saturday, November 18, 1995. by Zellyn James Hunter (zellyn@cc.gatech.edu)

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