New Internet Applications in the Making

SAN JOSE, California -- In an effort to lower the cost and risk of introducing services on the Internet, researchers are building a test bed for new technologies on top of the global network.

The project, dubbed PlanetLab, consists of about 160 networked computers around the world, with plans to have more than 1,000 machines soon. So far, equipment is based at 65 sites in 16 countries.

While PlanetLab uses the existing Internet for moving data, it integrates its own routers and servers. That gives researchers the opportunity to see how new applications behave at a global scale and closely monitor the inner workings of the network as new ideas are tested.

On Tuesday, organizers for the first time released details of the project and announced that Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP Labs will join Intel Corp. as a corporate participant. About 60 research centers worldwide are participating.

In the early days of the Internet, new technologies were tested by simply adding them to the network. If anything went awry, only a few researchers, universities and government agencies would notice.

PlanetLab is essentially a test bed for trying out new services or global applications, ranging from familiar tasks like content distribution and searches to grid computing and next-generation addressing systems.

The key is constructing overlays to the existing network and running software that gives researchers a slice of processor power, disk space and bandwidth from all participating machines.