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CEO: Bioinformatics Will Benefit from New Canadian Internet Infrastructure

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OTTAWA--Canada's component of the next generation of Internet infrastructure, CA*net II, was officially launched amid promises that it will be a boost to Canadian bioinformatics researchers. John Manley, Canada's industry minister, joined Andrew Bjerring, president and CEO of CANARIE, a nonprofit consortium of private-sector organizations, research institutions, and the Canadian government, in launching the CA*net II network at the CANARIE Showcase '97 here June 25.

CA*net II is designed to support advanced high-bandwidth multimedia, communications, and networking applications not possible on the prevailing Internet architecture. Several bandwidth-demanding projects will be tested on CA*net II, among them the bioinformatics research project of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC).

The primary advantage of CA*net II will be its high bandwidth, allowing information transfer rates 100-1,000 times faster than what the Internet currently allows, according to CANARIE's Bill St. Arnaud. Because of the amount of information than can be transferred, CA*net II will allow virtually real-time interaction among a number of sites, which will particularly benefit bioinformatics researchers, he said.

"The bioinformatics course is a very high consumer of bandwidth, of course, because of the high processing power," St. Arnaud elaborated. "So, for example, in Canada, with the bioinformatics initiative at the NRC, they're going to have distributed computers across the country doing genome sequencing. This is a big advantage now that, rather than having a single mainframe, you can distribute the load and get a much more effective and efficient genome sequencing, for example, on all of the distributed databases and different types of databases around the world simultaneously. This is where a high-speed network plays a critical role."

"For example, one computer or one server in, say, Saskatchewan, may have genome sequences for horses," he continued. "Another one in Ottawa may have genome sequences for monkeys and chimpanzees and another one in Halifax may have this and that. So if you're trying to match or find a corresponding sequence to a genome, trying to find a match to what its functionality may be, you can send it simultaneously to these different servers and see which gives you the closest match and gives you an indication as to what its possible functionality may be."

According to David Cairns, director of computer services at the University of Prince Edward Island, CA*net II will eventually allow researchers at his institution to collaborate with other researchers around the world as if they are in the same laboratory.

"It will enable our researchers to communicate more effectively--you can translate that into quicker--using newer generation tools like videoconferencing and so on with other institutions around Canada and the States, and in the near future worldwide, as other high-speed networks are connected to this Internet; the next generation, if you will," he told BioInform.

"We have one researcher in particular who is doing collaborative research on genetics, gene sequencing and so on, and what it's enabled her to do is to actually connect with people at other universities and use resources on their servers as if she was almost local to the servers instead of being here on Prince Edward Island. So it's almost a telepresence or the beginning of a telepresence," Cairns said.

CA*net II is designed to be compatible with the Internet 2 and next-generation Internet initiatives in the US. Because CA*net II is built around Bell Canada's asynchronous transfer mode facilities, lessons learned while building the system can quickly be transferred to Bell Canada customers, according to John McLennan, the company's CEO.

--David M. Lawrence

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