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High-speed data link ties Spokane, Seattle

A new, super-fast data link between Spokane and Seattle is ready to connect regional researchers to distant colleagues after three years in the making.

City and state officials on Tuesday will ceremonially launch the Inland Northwest Gigapop, a $2.5 million project that may tie area universities, schools and hospitals already connected to high-speed fiber-optic networks to national and international high-performance networks. Project advocates bill the link as promoting research and, eventually, driving economic development.

If the Internet is an “information superhighway,” the Inland Northwest Gigapop is akin to a private autobahn. It can transmit data at 10 gigabits per second — fast enough to send the contents of a 25 gigabyte Blu-ray disc in 20 seconds — but will be restricted to institutions that get clearance from project administrators at the University of Washington.

The link has been operational for about a month, said Clare Donahue, UW’s assistant vice president for networking.

“When we light something, we test it for a long time before we put anything on it,” she said.

It may be three or more years, however, before more businesses get involved, said Robin Toth, director of business development for Greater Spokane Inc.

The fiber-optic connection runs several hundred miles between a hub run by Pacific Northwest Gigapop, a nonprofit administered by UW, and the U.S. Bank Building in Spokane, where it is routed to nodes at the Wells Fargo Bank building, Eastern Washington University’s Riverpoint Campus and the Liberty Lake Internet Exchange.

The project received about $1.5 million in federal grant money and $1 million from the state, officials said. It came about through a collaboration among the city, UW, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Greater Spokane Inc., area universities, Sirti and others.

Creating the link required activating unused fiber-optic cable and creating nine “huts” along the route to amplify the signal, Donahue said.

The signal speed later could be boosted to as much as 320 gigabits per second by transmitting data on multiple wavelengths of light. Typical T1 lines only support transfers of about 1.5 megabits per second.

The four-year-old Virtual Possibilities Network already ties universities, local school districts, Sirti and Inland Northwest Health Services through a fiber-optic network meant to foster collaboration and economic growth. The new Spokane-Seattle link may extend that connectivity.

“It’s sort of a big convergence,” said Steve Simmons, director of the Center for Network Computing and Cyber Security at EWU.

Pacific Northwest Gigapop also runs similar nodes in Portland and Anchorage. It provides access to networks such as National LamdaRail and the education-only Internet2.”I think you will see heavy usage of that network almost immediately,” Octavio Morales, one of four partners at the Liberty Lake Internet Exchange (LLIX), said of the Gigapop.

The Gigapop could be used for data-mining and video-intensive applications. It also may help LLIX, which provides servers and generators for information backup, better serve customers by allowing them to backup data at LLIX, he said.

Simmons foresees using the link for an ongoing project to conduct remote music rehearsals. A professor of computational chemistry, for example, might use it to send data modeling how molecules interact to a supercomputer at PNNL, Simmons said.

“Basically, the science community has sort of percolated up to where it has stuff ready to go,” Simmons said, although he added it might take months to clear administrative hurdles for his project.

The Gigapop project also could help incubator development and telemedicine, Donahue said.

“You have institutions in the Spokane area that might want to send radiological images which take up a lot of bandwidth or other medical information, and this is a good way to do it,” she said, noting that INHS has expressed interest in the Gigapop.

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