News Archive

SDSC Experts Help Navajos Build "An Internet to the Hogan"

Published 01/26/2007

Media Contacts:
Warren Froelich
Diane Baxter
Tom Davis
Navajo Technical College

by Paul K. Mueller

Navajos in the American Southwest, many of whom have never had access to a personal telephone, will soon make a significant leap into the Internet Age, thanks in part to resources and expertise provided by the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego.

The Navajos, who refer to themselves as the "Dine" ( dee-nay ), will celebrate "An Internet to the Hogan and Dine Grid Event" on Monday, Jan. 29, at Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Highlights of the event include their official acceptance of a "Little Fe" mini-supercomputer from the TeraGrid - the world's largest supercomputing network - and a demonstration of advanced radio technology.

Little Fe (in contrast to "big iron," slang for supercomputers) is a small cluster of parallel processors that work together as a single small supercomputer. Developed by a team of computer scientists and professors for their students, it provides both a research-level parallel cluster and an opportunity for students to learn parallel processing.

According to Tom Davis, dean of instruction at the Navajo college, the project is "designed to end the digital divide in the eastern agency of the Navajo Nation" - a vast, stark, high-desert landscape poorly served by commercial utility companies, where traveling 10 miles to make a phone call is not uncommon.

Staff at SDSC, among them Jim Hale and Diane Baxter, are working on interrelated projects with Navajo Technical College (NTC). The first phase will build a major wireless "pipe" using the Lambda Rail and Internet 2 from Albuquerque to the college, in northwest New Mexico. Through an extended mesh of wireless broadband towers that will be built by students, faculty and community members, NTC will offer broadband connectivity to 31 community centers, and later to schools, clinics, hospitals, police departments, fire houses and homes.

"SDSC, a member of the TeraGrid collaboration, is eager to help demonstrate the promise of this technology," said Baxter, director of education at SDSC. "We look forward to working with the Navajo Nation to help build this bridge to the future."

Working with Hale and Baxter at SDSC is Jared Ribble, 22, a Navajo student learning to harness the powerful resources of supercomputers. "Helping put the Dine on the grid, and bringing the Internet to the hogan," he says, "gives us a wealth of opportunities. The addition of Little Fe will enable complex research projects to be conducted anywhere on the grid. A small tribal college can now have the research capabilities of a major university."