Eighth Annual Megaconference Travels the World on Nov. 2

Jun 30, 2007

Columbus, Ohio (Nov. 2, 2006) – The Megaconference makes its 8th annual return to cyberspace today, uniting thousands of people in 27 countries on five continents for a day long global learning seminar.

This year’s Megaconference theme, “Breaking Down Barriers to Global Connections,” reflects the event’s international spirit. The event, sponsored by Internet2 and operated by the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), and The Ohio State University (OSU), focuses on increasing world understanding and cultural exchange through tours of national landmarks, native music and dance performances, historical recreations, and much more.

Originally intended as a technology forum to test, promote, and literally push the limits of new networking technologies, Megaconference has grown in both size and scope, and has spun off similar events including Megaconference Jr., now in its fourth year, and the Gigaconference, in its second year.

Pankaj Shah, director of OARnet, said the Megaconference is much more than the worldwide educational event and cultural exchange viewers see. Shah said the event also helps drive research and development of new and better networking infrastructure components by providing manufacturers with the world’s largest test environment.

“These networks are based on different technologies, such as ATM, ISDN, and IP, and there are so many components involved that must work in order to make this technology seamless,” Shah said. “As we do the Megaconference most of these components break at some point, and as a community we learn where and how these breaks occur. Companies learn more about their products by seeing them work or fail in conjunction with every other product and component on these interconnected networks around the world.” 

The Megaconference demonstrates new and novel applications of videoconferencing and other emerging technologies. Viewers will see many interesting presentations and interactions including a live piano session between players in Canada and Finland, a Swiss castle tour via cell phone camera, a zoology museum tour in China, a Lewis and Clark expedition, an American Cowgirl experience, a SCUBA dive along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, a Wright Brothers re-enactment, and an Antarctica excursion.

“No single event involves more people or spans more continents than Megaconference. In 2005, we had over 7,500 participants from 425 sites, and the conference continues to grow each year,” said Jonathan Tyman, program manager for the Internet2 Commons. “The Internet2 Commons was developed to serve as a platform for broad collaboration and innovation. Megaconference is a leading example of how the research and education community is pioneering the use of videoconference technology to provide unprecedented opportunities for cross-cultural sharing and learning.” 

Dr. Karen A. Holbrook, president of The Ohio State University (OSU), is scheduled to address the Megaconference during a welcome ceremony at 9:30 a.m. (EST). This will be Holbrook’s last participation in the Megaconference as OSU’s president. She last addressed participants during Megaconference V in 2003. Holbrook plans to retire from OSU on June 30, 2007.

Dr. Robert Dixon, a systems engineer for the OSU Office of the CIO and for OSC, said videoconferencing will become commonplace throughout the world as Internet speeds increase, broadband and wireless access expands, better network equipment is manufactured, and more sophisticated products become available to consumers, especially handheld devices.

“It brings people together from all over the world in a way that can’t be duplicated by any other technology. Creativity is unleashed in wonderful ways that allow everyone to express themselves and describe their work and experiences to an enthusiastic global audience,” said Dixon. “The world becomes a smaller and friendlier place when we can see and talk to one another openly and freely, without political or cultural boundaries.”

Dixon said that although the technology behind the Megaconference, called H.323, is not as widely used as telephones and computers, it is increasingly being used by schools for distance education, cultural institutions for tours and field trips, and large corporations for videoconference meetings.

“It’s not hard to learn how to use this technology. Most grade school teachers can learn this in one day,” said Dixon. “There are training classes and materials written specifically for K-12 teachers, and many are already using it to share resources, take field trips, and  share classrooms with kids on the other side of the country, or the other side of the world.”

OSC and OSU jointly manage the Internet2 Commons, a remote collaboration service for large-scale deployment of Internet videoconferencing tools that are available to members of the Internet2 community and their collaborators. The Internet2 Commons, and integral part of the Megaconference backbone, sits on Ohio’s Third Frontier Network (TFN), the nation’s most advanced fiber-optic statewide research and education network serving K-12, colleges and universities, hospitals and public television stations.

OARnet Video Engineer Arif Khan, who leads the OSC engineering team behind the Megaconference, said the event is challenging not only for its size and scope, but for the variety of equipment that is used by engineers in different countries around the world, as well as the level and quality of bandwidth available in these countries.

Khan said many presenters and participants in developing countries must deal with older equipment, unstable networks, lower bandwidth rates, and limited technical expertise that often requires many extra hours of troubleshooting for the U.S. engineers coordinating the event.

“But that’s a big part of what this event is all about,” said Khan. “It’s about bringing this technology to all the people, cultures, and countries on the planet. The Megaconference helps deploy better technology, create better ways to provide education and healthcare, and so many other things that are beneficial.”

Everyone participating in the Megaconference is routed through OSCnet and the OARnet Support Center, which provides technical and network management services such as testing connections, and connecting participants to the conference through Multipoint Control Units (MCUs) located around the world.

For more information about the Megaconference go to www.megaconference.org. The complete program list can be found at http://digitalunion.osu.edu/megaconference/program.html.
For more information on the Internet2 Commons go to http://www.internet2.edu/products-services/cloud-services-applications/video-exchange/.

About the Ohio Supercomputer Center
A technology initiative of the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Supercomputer Center is a catalytic partner of Ohio universities and industries to enable Ohio to compete for international, federal, and state funding, focusing on new research and business opportunities.  It provides a reliable high performance computing and high performance communications infrastructure for a diverse statewide/regional community including education, academic research, industry, and state government.  OSC promotes and stimulates computational research and education in order to act as a key enabler for the state's aspirations in advanced technology, information systems, and advanced industries.  For additional information visit: http://www.osc.edu.