Internet transmissions using DSL and cable modems seem like pony express deliveries compared with the superfast data transfer achieved by scientists at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). The scientists were able to transmit 6.7GB of data—the equivalent of four hours of DVD-quality movies—from Sunnyvale, Calif., to Amsterdam, Netherlands (6,800 miles), in 58 seconds. The rate they achieved, 923Mbps, is more than 3,500 times as fast as a typical home Internet broadband connection.
SLAC is part of an international team—along with Caltech, the National Institute for Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics in Amsterdam, and the science faculty of the Universiteit van Amsterdam—that was awarded a data-transfer speed record by the Internet2 consortium. The consortium is working to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies in its effort to create the next generation of the Internet.
The record-setting transmission—completed in February 2003—used advanced technology from vendors Cisco Systems and Level 3 Communications as well as research organizations NetherLight, StarLight, Surfnet and TeraGrid. According to SLAC, the need to transfer and analyze vast amounts of data produced by particle physicists studying the fundamental building blocks of matter motivated the record. But Les Cottrell, assistant director of SLAC computer services, sees potential benefits for business.
“I could see this having a big effect on media distribution; for example Blockbuster could start shipping movies to someone’s home in a matter of minutes,” Cottrell says. A company like Boeing could transmit product design data across the country rather than ship storage tapes by truck. Other high-bandwidth applications could include global climate forecasting, distance learning, human genome research and the ability of doctors to share patient information from multiple sites around the world in real-time.
When will such high-data transfer rates become commonplace? That’s hard to predict, says Cottrell. But he adds that he would not be surprised to see some of these applications occurring within the next 10 years.