Faster Campus Internet Offers Opportunities for Innovation

NSF Grant Will Help UH Researchers Crunch Data More Quickly

A 10-fold leap forward in Internet bandwidth connectivity will allow researchers at the University of Houston to more quickly upload and crunch data. Online classes could become far more engaging and interactive.

Deniz Gurkan, associate professor of computer engineering technology in the College of Technology, has received a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to upgrade campus cyber infrastructure to 100 gigabits per second.

That will be a huge step up from the current bandwidth of 10 gigabits per second, and Gurkan said the expansion should meet the University’s needs for years to come.

But that’s not really the point, she said.

“It’s more about enabling innovation,” she said. “It’s about ‘Build it and the innovation will come.’ ’’

UH is a consortium member of the Internet2, which offers a range of network services tailored to the needs of research and education. Gurkan said most of the money from the Campus Cyberinfrastructure – Network Infrastructure and Engineering grant will be spent for equipment to upgrade campus connectivity to the Internet2’s fastest network connection, 100 gigabits per second.

The grant program started last year, although the National Science Foundation has made periodic investments in high-performance computing and research infrastructure since 1995.

Gurkan said the original investments came when universities were just beginning to see the potential of the Internet. Back then, she said, no one anticipated the growth of e-commerce and social networks.

“Without seeing the (potential) applications, the National Science Foundation and universities invested,” she said. “Now, the Internet is something completely different than what it was designed for. Web videoconferences are part of our everyday life. We are at another inflection point … that will take society someplace else.”

Rathindra Bose, vice president for research and technology transfer for the University, said faculty are creating more and more data as they use more sophisticated computers to gather information.

“Storing it all and easily accessing it all is a monumental task, but it is definitely not insurmountable,” he said. “Our collaborators at other institutions are already sharing large quantities of data through Internet2, and Dr. Gurkan’s efforts will ensure our faculty are able to meet the new needs for research data storage, mining and sharing.”

Gurkan said she will install the increased connectivity at several places around campus to make it more convenient for researchers to use. But the potential innovations won’t stop there. There are applications in health care and education, as well.

UH and other universities have begun to spread their academic expertise beyond their campuses through what are known as massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and Gurkan said increased bandwidth could allow additional creativity and interactivity for online education, individual tutoring, healthcare and other applications.

“Maybe a hologram of the (tutor) in your living room,” she said. “Why not?”