I took the train back through the rolling hills of the Bernese Oberland and Fribourg to Geneva. There, I went to see Brian Carpenter, head of networking for CERN, the European physics laboratory.

CERN is one of the major centers for the study of high-energy physics in the world. The laboratory has over 5,000 visiting scientists, plus another 3,000 permanent staff members. CERN is funded by 17 European countries, including a substantial East European membership. The laboratory is mission oriented, a place to do serious, world-class research. It has, as have many other physics laboratories such as Fermilab in Chicago, been on the forefront of networking as a way of allowing physicists to exchange data.

A typical CERN experiment in high-energy physics might involve 400 scientific staff from 20 to 40 different institutions. For example, one of the experiments on the Large Electron-Positron (LEP), the new 27-km accelerator, involves physicists from seven CERN members working alongside scientists from China, India, Israel, Hungary, the U.S., and Russia.

Because of CERN’s constituency, it has become one of the global Internet hubs. Much of the connectivity to Eastern Europe funnels through CERN. The CERN mail gateway routes messages for hundreds of networks.

Internally, the CERN network runs the usual motley assortment of technologies, including gigabit Ultra networks, FDDI, and over 3,500 stations on 60 different Ethernets. Over 400 gigabytes per month are transferred on the FDDI backbone alone. Over 1,000 stations on a 4 Mbps token ring are used to control the accelerator.

WAN links at CERN are equally impressive. Over 150 gigabytes per month are transferred out of the laboratory over wide area networks. The laboratory has a 384 kbps link to MIT, a T1 line to Cornell, an E1 line to Bologna, and an 8 Mbps feed to the CHEOPS satellite. Francois Flückiger, deputy head of networking, estimated that of the total 15 Mbps of international bandwidth devoted to re search networking, 11 Mbps terminate at CERN.