WASHINGTON, D.C. – Internet2 is making the investment to fuel the next great innovation.

Internet2 is guiding a transformative overhaul for research and education networks by helping to create dynamic and collaborative-based models at the national and global levels. Bigger pipes, new technologies, and new ideas are opening the doors to a new era of connectivity that may reshape the Web as we know it in a not-so-distant future.

Internet2 is a member-led advanced technology community founded by the nation’s leading higher education institutions in 1996. The non-profit consortium consists of more than 450 U.S. universities, corporations, laboratories, government agencies, and national, regional and state research and education networks as well as several other global organizations.

Through the help of federal funding, Internet2 currently is deploying a 100G optical backbone for connecting regional networks all over the United States at higher speeds. This project is nearly finished.

Internet2 also is starting to work with cutting-edge software-defined networking (SDN) technology and specialized virtual networks to enable services via the Internet that go beyond the scope and missions of individual institutions.

Internet2 received a $62.5 million federal stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The total project value is about $97 million.

The grant is funding a dramatic expansion of the Internet2 network by providing an unprecedented 8.8 terabits of capacity using new 100G Ethernet technology. The end result will be the first nationwide open SDN network platform as well as the first nationwide network to deploy 100 GigE waves on its entire footprint, making it the most sophisticated research and education platform on the planet.

Recently, Internet2 also launched what it calls the Innovation Platform, a unique set of technologies bundled in the network that combines leading-edge SDN and OpenFlow standards with abundant bandwidth provided through the 100G deployment. To date, more than 20 Internet2 member universities and regional networks have asked to become collaborators in piloting these technologies.

According to Internet2 President and CEO Dave Lambert, the upgraded network will be capable of not only helping universities but also supporting connectivity for community anchor institutions all over the country – enabling telemedicine, distance learning, and other advanced applications not possible with consumer-grade Internet services. This will create new economic opportunities while also supporting other diverse needs.

Lambert is focused on three areas at this historic crossroads in broadband: Community, Innovation, and Transformation.

Internet2 serves the high-end, sophisticated needs of the world’s research and education community, connecting some of the greatest institutions anyone has ever seen. Internet2 is faced with unique challenges to meet and exceed the global expectations of its constituents. Also within this community strategy is an outlined role of the United States Unified Community Anchor Network (U.S. UCAN) project.

The U.S. UCAN mission is to identify, nurture, and implement national advanced network and application programs that enable community anchor institutions to better serve their communities. Those sectors include health institutions, public safety, community colleges, schools, community centers, libraries, museums, and other public access points that can benefit from advanced broadband Internet services.

U.S. UCAN plans to build on the success of research and education networks that have played a central role in the development and growth of the Internet, and where possible, collaborate with and leverage the investments of private-sector broadband providers to help increase the bandwidth needs at the residential level.

Mark Johnson is the former interim director for U.S. UCAN and indicated that the group has been making great progress building collaborative communities in support of anchor institutions. U.S. UCAN recently hired a permanent executive director, Susannah Spellman, who is working with a pilot group of 14 affiliate organizations to refine services and focus, with plans to hold a workshop in October in conjunction with the Internet2 Fall Member Meeting.

Another piece to the bandwidth puzzle within the community is the development of open online classes and other next-gen education models. Udacity, MITx, Coursera, 2TOR are examples of how a new way of scalable, community-engaged online learning is being created from higher amounts of bandwidth connectivity.

The second part of Internet2’s new approach focuses on innovation.

As the era of big broadband and big data comes at us like a tidal wave, this new and required level of connectivity will provide ways to tap into data sets previously unimaginable. Internet2 is working to scale SDN, OpenFlow, virtualized architectures, and other new ways to speed up the network and harness its power. This in turn will enable the convergence of big networking and big data where researchers around the world can easily share enormous genomic files in less than 30 seconds or support groundbreaking discoveries like the recent Higgs Boson announcement.

Lambert added that this kind of research is enabling exciting innovations but requires a type of network bandwidth that is nothing like we’ve seen before and is truly global in nature.

“This is all happening in a truly global context,” said Lambert. “Our community depends on a global infrastructure to be able to support those kinds of operations and must be capable of delivering the same kind of services we see here as in China, Russia, the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world.”

Finally, the third part of the strategy focuses on the transformation of the Web as we know it by embracing exciting strides in cyberinfrastructure that will move at fast speeds with tremendous capacity.

This transformative technology base has had dramatic impacts on research and pedagogy as broadband-rich environments at universities become even more essential. Google, Facebook, and many of the world’s greatest large and small technology assets were founded on university campuses. This new level of connectivity is needed today so the next great innovations can occur.

“The old model of every institution building their own IT services was becoming so costly that it was really making it difficult for them to maintain coherent campus-based service environments,” said Lambert. “This, unfortunately, has contributed to the cost of education today.”

Internet2 recently introduced the NET+ program as an effort to alleviate this burden. Lambert explained that NET+ is structured in the spirit of transforming campuses through new initiatives like Box and eText as well as other global endeavors that advance the educational missions at universities in a cost-effective manner.

Internet2’s refocus on community, innovation, and transformation as well as providing a high-capacity network for pushing the boundaries of science and technology are working to advance new ways to foster the Internet of the future.

And that Internet of the future along with that next great innovation may come sooner than later.