A worldwide effort to make the internet a more collaborative medium has been launched, with a node at Canterbury University.
Planet Lab involves about 70 universities worldwide, with backing from Intel and HP.
Canterbury Univeristy PhD student Carl Cook says his participation began after he attended a New York conference last year, where he presented a paper on a next-generation network utility. Representatives of US universities at the OPENARCH (open architectures and programmable networks) conference invited attendees to get involved.
“I said ‘give us a couple of nodes for Canterbury University’, and they did.”
The nodes are two PCs from Intel, which are quarantined from the university’s network, but available for researchers overseas to access.
“Effectively it works as one big server,” Cook says.
Working remotely is a key feature of the study, part of which is to identify and overcome network bottlenecks so that applications like videostreaming become viable over the internet.
Cook says the university’s two machines have been handling “gigabits” of overseas-generated data. Traffic has been so great that access has had to be limited to reduce the Canterbury lab’s phone bill.
"I am interested in using the framework to support real-time collaborative software engineering," Cook says. "I am developing a suite of software development tools, and it would be great for people to use them concurrently in several remote locations - it would save a lot of unnecessary travel.
"We also intend to run extensive simulations on the network; in particular, to model the performance of new network protocols.
"The long term vision for Planet Lab is to move away from just the research centres and be accessible by everybody on the internet. In fact, it is intended that the Planet Lab software will become freely available for all internet users, allowing every computer to become part of the Planet lab architecture."
California-based Intel researcher Timothy Roscoe says the chip maker isn't backing the research with a view to developing any particular product.
"It came out of recognition that here was a new era of distributed systems research," Roscoe says.