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Networks for Science and Society: Q&A with Hans-Werner Braun

Hans-Werner Braun is the Principal Investigator of the NSF-supported High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network ( HPWREN), which focuses on innovative uses of wireless networking in hard-to-reach areas. HPWREN applications range from remote environmental sensors and wildfire communications to distance education and virtual explorations. Previously Braun initiated and led the National Laboratory for Applied Network Research (NLANR) and numerous other network research projects at SDSC, and he served as Chief Network Architect with the Teledesic Corporation. An Internet pioneer, he was a principal investigator of the NSFNET backbone project, which led to the Internet of today. He has been at SDSC since 1991.

Q: How long have you been working on the HPWREN project and how did it get started?

We were awarded the original grant from the National Science Foundation in 2000. Then the purpose of HPWREN was to connect remote science sites to high-speed networking. Scripps Institution of Oceanography geophysicist Frank Vernon is the HPWREN co-PI; he and I worked together to create a way for him to better stream data from remote seismic sites to his campus laboratory. From there, we went on to implementing and connecting additional environmental sensors such as the San Diego State University Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, and other remote areas of San Diego County. Additional connections those first few years included hard-to-reach Native American learning centers, observatories like the Palomar Observatory, rural fire stations, and the list continues to grow. By now, we have many remote sites connected to our network, extending from an offshore island in the Pacific Ocean to the desert near the Arizona border. There's an online map that shows the current topology.


Q: What type of measurements are you conducting on the network?

Right now we are concentrating our research on quality of services. From the very early phases, a lot of emphasis was put into an ability to do various measurements on the network, from simple statistics collections, latency and throughput testing, all the way to a capability for assessing individual workloads pretty much at any point in the network. An initial quality of service implementation is in place, and we expect more router instrumentation soon to improve an impact assessment.


Q: What type of research did you do prior to this project?

My career in computer networking began back in the 1978 in Germany at the University of Cologne, working on a state-wide network to provide access to the University of Cologne computer facilities. Then, in 1983, I moved to the United States, where I first worked at the University of Michigan and the Merit Computer Network, a Michigan university networking consortium, on networking infrastructure. In 1987, I became a Principal Investigator for the NSFNET backbone project. During that time, the NSFNET backbone became the core interconnection network for the Internet, which enabled the Internet commercialization several years later. The NSFNET was key for driving the Internet technology from a DARPA research project which, in the wake of GOSIP and X.25, seemed on its way into oblivion in the mid-1980s, towards an operationally accepted and commercialized globally available environment.


Q: What are your plans for the future?

We have several new things going on. For instance, we are working with the first responder community on ways in which we can better their remote communications efforts during wildfires. And, my staff and I are also involved with Live Interactive Virtual Explorations (LIVE) activities, which allow virtual education programs from all of our sites to educators and their students. Our first experiments with the LIVE stuff involved HPWREN-connected sites such as the Palomar Observatory, Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, California Wolf Center, Cabrillo National Monument Tidepools, and the Pala Native American Learning Center. We're hoping to expand these efforts into additional learning environments -- concentrating on students that do not have easy access to such hard-to-reach science sites. As for other activities, we are always open to talking with potential collaborators on pushing wireless networking to new limits.