Big pipes for serious networkers at SuperComm

CHICAGO'Exhibitors at this week's SuperComm trade show have some serious bandwidth to play with when demonstrating their latest networking tools and applications.

In addition to virtual private networks on the show floor linked to the complex's 100-Mbps LAN, McCormick Place boasts a permanent 1Gbps connection to Internet2.

'It certainly weighed in our decision' to move the show from Atlanta to Chicago this year, said A.J. Janosko, SuperComm director of operations. 'This is what these people do. The Lucents, the Nortels, the Ciscos will use it.'

The link, the first of its kind for a convention center, was spurred by the demand of advanced medical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

One of Chicago's largest conventions is held by the Radiological Society of North America. It draws 60,000 attendees to McCormick Place eager to try out new bandwidth-intensive medical applications. This spurred a major upgrade in 2002 of the LAN serving the convention complex, which includes three McCormick Place buildings and the adjacent Hyatt hotel and nearby Navy Pier.

More than 400 miles of fiber-optic cable were installed and a category 5 copper network was extended to the show floors. The backbone includes four model 6509 switching routers from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., and more than 160 Cisco 3500 series switches.

But the Radiological Society also wanted pipes big enough to do remote 3-D imaging for interactive diagnostic exercises.

Northwestern University's International Center for Advanced Internet Research was working with the school's radiology department and facilitated the necessary connection.

'It was driven by the RSNA and the National Institutes of Health,' said Joe Mambretti, director of the center's Metropolitan Research and Education Network.

MREN, a high-performance research network operated by area universities and the Argonne and Fermi Accelerator national laboratories, provided a 1Gbps link to the convention center complex. The Starlight networking interconnect at Northwestern's downtown campus provides connectivity with a full array of research networks that make up Internet2.

Internet2 is a consortium being led by 206 universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies. The Internet2 backbone, called Abilene, is a cross-country OC-192c-over-Sonet network with 11 routers.

The RSNA's big-byte medical imaging is exactly the type of application Internet2 was intended to serve. It requires moving large files quickly and'just as importantly'without data loss.

'A 10-Gbps network is easy to do,' said Internet2 spokesman Greg Wood. 'The challenge is engineering the network to provide the headroom for users to do new things and focus on other problems. The goal of the network has always been to be extreme leading edge, but stable.'

Chicago has not had a reputation as an IT center.

'I'm hoping that will change,' with the advanced network capability, said Ellen Barry, CIO of the city's Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. SuperComm is the first large IT conference and exhibition to come to McCormick Place. 'The medical field knows us pretty well. We hope the technology shows will follow now.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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