United States Geological Survey (USGS) Digital Elevation Model (DEM) terrain data may be obtained for the entire globe from the USGS Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center. To obtain data for the entire world just download everything in the directory. The full download is 287 MB so you should not do this lightly. If you're only interested in part of the world, view the tiles.gif file to see which data files to download. Alternatively you can download terrain data in the GLOBE format from NOAA. On this site a point and click map guides you to the data file for your region of interest. Again the total dataset is several hundred megabytes in size so some discretion is required. If you wish to use a significant fraction of these data on the departmental systems contact firstname.lastname@example.org about installing them in one place for all users to access.
One of the best viewers for these files is 3DEM. It can be downloaded from Visualization Software. 3DEM allows you to access the USGS DEM and NOAA GLOBE files described above without even unzipping them. You just point at a map and click on the location of interest. It can handle several other data formats as well. 3DEM has a variety of sophistication 2-D mapping and 3-D viewing capabilities and a good range of output formats. The software is free as of this writing.
(Rev. GSY 23-Aug-04)