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The Future of Computing
Internet 2 and PennNet-21 put Penn in the technology vanguard.
By Judith Rodin
Ides of March is a day typically associated with foreboding predictions,
but that was far from the case this year at Penn. On that day, I joined
a group of University faculty, students and staff to discuss an exciting
new initiative: Penn's role in developing the next generation Internet.
Our important work in this area -- coupled with an aggressive internal
assessment of our technology infrastructure called PennNet-21 -- will
help position the University to take full advantage of the enormous advances
taking place in the realm of information technology.
Of all the challenges facing Penn today, our need to
thoughtfully integrate and utilize information technology is among the
most pressing. Indeed, the creative deployment of new technologies is
one of the prime strategic goals in the Agenda for Excellence.
Recognizing that technology is revolutionizing the ways in which knowledge
is acquired, created and disseminated, Penn will implement, through acquisition
or development, state-of-the-art information systems that will improve
the flow of electronic communication and advance Penn's academic, administrative
and capital planning processes. Let me tell you more about what Penn is
doing in this important area.
The Internet, one of the most important and transformative
developments of the 20th century, is largely a product of academe. And
academe will take a leadership role in developing the Internet of the
21st century. The vehicle for this extraordinary journey is Internet 2,
a collaborative effort comprised of select American universities working
with industry and government.
The mission of this initiative is an ambitious one:
to develop, deploy and operate advanced, network-based applications and
network services to further U.S. leadership in research and higher education
and accelerate the availability of new services and applications on the
The importance of an enhanced Internet to higher education
is clear. Internet 2 is working to enable applications, such as telemedicine,
digital libraries and virtual laboratories, that are not possible with
the technology underlying today's Internet. These and other applications
would have great impact on the humanities and sciences alike; they will
benefit any research that requires interactive collaboration and instruction,
real-time access to remote scientific instruments, shared virtual reality
or multi-media services.
While our work on the Internet 2 project has national
and international implications, the University's PennNet-21 Project is
focused on Penn's own technological infrastructure and future computing
needs. As more Penn users rely on networked applications in the areas
of teaching, learning, research and university administration, the demands
for service availability and reliability as well as for diversity of services
have increased astronomically. The responsibility for meeting those demands
rests with Penn's Division of Information Systems and Computing (ISC).
Led by Vice Provost James O'Donnell, ISC has begun PennNet-21, a project
that is forging a vision for Penn's 21st-century computing.
A recent PennNet-21 white paper lays out a detailed
scenario for Penn's workplace of the future. It is fascinating reading,
as the following brief excerpt shows:
Robert arrives for work at his office in the Van
Pelt Library about 30 minutes before his scheduled video conference call,
and sets Rover, his handheld computing device, next to his desktop computer.
The handheld and desktop quickly authenticate to each other and then automatically
start to synchronize their data over a wireless connection.
"Any messages, Scanner?" Robert asks his desktop.
"Three," his desktop computer replies, "two
from callers on your critical-caller list, one that seems to be a sales
call." Robert tells Scanner to route the two critical-caller messages
to Rover, where he can access them wherever he might go, and to leave
the sales call. He'll pick that up later as time permits. "I reserved
some video time for this morning," Robert continues. "Bring
up a screen directory, please."
Schedule information for his reserved 4-way video conference,
and three scheduled video multicasts he had indicated might be of interest,
display on the screen in a window just above the rolling ticker display
of university announcements. He confirms the video conference call and
clicks 'reject' on two of the multicasts and 'accept' on one. Scanner
completes the network reservation requests necessary for both the video
conference and the video content he requested.
This vision of a future workplace at Penn is not far
distant. Making it -- or something close to it -- a reality will mean
allocating numerous resources. But first and foremost, that vision will
require a talented and dedicated team of imaginative and technologically
skilled men and women. Penn is fortunate to already have such a team at
The University of Pennsylvania has long been a leader
in developing and applying information technology to further its mission.
Clearly, the intense pace of the information revolution requires us to
be constantly vigilant and strategic about how we use technology. As Internet
2 and PennNet-21 demonstrate, we are. And because of that, we will continue
to leverage the power of information technology in our classrooms, our
laboratories and our offices as the old century ends and the new one begins.
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Gazette Last modified 5/3/99