On the Horizon
The most significant changes on the horizon for networking include a higher degree of interconnectivity, greater bandwidth, and increased access to supercomputer-level computational resources. Much of the research in this area is federally funded, while some is being undertaken by deep-pocketed corporations such as IBM. The most notable federally funded initiatives include the Very High-Bandwidth Network Service (vBNS) initiative by the NSF that provides connectivity between about 45 and 155 Mbps. In addition, the Next-Generation Internet (NGI) initiative is aimed at supporting the NSF and other agencies in developing advanced networks, such as Grid computing.
The goal for most of this advanced network research is aptly referred to as ubiquitous computingthe anywhere, anytime access to computing power and data. For example, the Grid, when and if it is established, will put affordable supercomputer power in the hands of researchers who would otherwise be limited to workstation power. Virtual reality, simulation, data mining, and other bioinformatics endeavors that demand high-bandwidth computational support are expected to be commonplace as the focus of bioinformatics research extends from sequence analysis to gene expression and proteomics.
Many challenges remain before ubiquitous computing is an everyday reality. For example, the primary impediment to distributing information to a grid of computers that cover a large geographic area is security because each node in the grid represents a potential security risk. Similarly, the extension of the wireless Web is limited as much by the need for a high-bandwidth network infrastructure as it is by security concerns. After all, consider that genomic data that might indicate a subject's predisposition for, as an example, Alzheimer's disease or schizophrenia, are data that could indelibly ruin that person's prospect for employment and lower his social standing in his community.