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Untangling the next Internet (1998)

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Lately, there has been more and more buzz about a new version of the Internet -- a faster, more sophisticated, and generally cooler network that is being created much the same way the original Internet sprung up. In fact, there are two separate blueprints being developed to do this: the Washington-sponsored Next Generation Internet, as well as the education community's Internet2. Writer Amy Finley explains how these plans differ and what they each propose to do.

By Amy Finley

By now, anyone who reads the morning paper has probably heard that the Internet will be an even bigger deal in the future than it is today. Schoolchildren will access all the great works of literature ever written with the click of a mouse; surgeries will be performed via cyberspace; all transactions with the government -- from paying your taxes to renewing your driver's license -- will be conducted via your personal computer, making bureaucratic line-ups a thing of the past.

Sound too good to be true? Much of what has been written about two buzzword initiatives, "Internet2" (I2) and the "Next Generation Internet" (NGI), would lead one to believe that these scenarios are just around the corner.

And some may be. Already in the works are projects to split the spectrum of light traveling the Internet's optical networks, allowing "high-priority" traffic to pass at the highest and least-interrupted frequency, while passing low-priority traffic (i.e. your e-mail) along at a lower frequency. Teleinstrumentation -- the remote operation of such rare resources as satellites and electron microscopes -- has been demonstrated. Digital libraries containing environmental data have been used to simulate natural and man-made disasters for emergency response teams. Classrooms and entire universities have gone online, making remote education an option for students.

But misconceptions about I2 and NGI abound -- first and foremost that they are interchangeable terms for the same project, closely followed by the perception that the government is hard at work right now digging trenches and laying cable for what is to be a brand new Internet.

I2 and NGI are separate and distinctly different initiatives. It's easiest to think of them as two different answers to the same plaguing problem. The problem? Congestion on the commercially available Internet.

The need for a new Internet
Prior to 1995, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) NSFnet served the research and academic community and allowed for cross country communications on relatively unclogged T3 (45 megabit per second) lines that were unavailable for commercial use. However, NSFnet went public in 1995, setting the stage for today's Internet. As the Internet has become irrevocably a part of American life, the increase in e-mail traffic and the proliferation of graphically dense pages have eaten up valuable bandwidth.

In a speech at the Technology '98 conference in San Francisco in February, President Clinton remarked upon the Internet's impact on business, noting that "Within a single year, an online bookstore, increased its sales nearly 10 times selling 6.5 million books in 1997. In a year's time, Internet airline ticket sales nearly tripled and are expected to grow sixfold, to $5 billion a year, by the year 2000. By 2002, electronic commerce between businesses in the United States alone will exceed $300 billion."

With all of this data congealing in cyberspace -- for the Internet currently knows no differentiation between a Web site belonging to Arthur Andersen or Pamela Anderson -- there has arisen a critical need for a "new" Internet. The answers to the questions For what purpose? and For who's use? vary depending upon the proposed solution.

Internet2: The bottom-up initiative
Internet2 is the university community's response to the need for a return to dedicated bandwidth for academic and research use exclusively. Currently, about 120 universities and 25 corporate sponsors (including Sun Microsystems) are members of Internet2, which in October 1997 incorporated itself forming the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID).

UCAID now serves as the support and administrative organization for the project known as Internet2. Members pay an annual fee of between $10,000 and $25,000 and must demonstrate that they are making a definitive, substantial, and continuing commitment to the development, evolution, and use of networking facilities and applications in the conduct of research and education before they are approved for membership.

We will know that the Internet2 is a success
when the applications and technologies developed
by our university participants have been
migrated into the broader networking community
--Greg Wood, Internet2

"More than the dues, this commitment to advanced networking and support of applications development on campus are the universities' substantial contribution to the Internet2 effort," says Internet2 representative Greg Wood. Wood estimates that universities will be investing at least $500,000 per year "over the course of the project." This money, he says, will be used by the universities "to provide the necessary networking capabilities and resources so that they can develop advanced applications."

Internet2 represents the interests of the academic community through its concentration on applications that require more bandwidth and end-to-end quality of service (QoS) than is available relying upon the commercial Internet. I2 is focused upon the needs of academia first, but is expected to develop technologies and applications that will eventually make their way into the rest of society.

"Similar to how the Internet as we know it today was originally a university project that has now transformed American life, we will know that the Internet2 project is a success when the applications and technologies developed by our university participants have been migrated into the broader networking community," says Wood. "As Internet2 participants work with industry to transform the way that university research makes use of networking technology, those advances will emanate out and transform the Internet for the regular end user."

Buy rather than build
So what about the misconception that Internet2 is an actual physical entity? In fact, I2 hopes to create the networked environment referred to as Internet2 by connecting and upgrading a number of federal and campus-funded networks that already exist.

I2 Director of Applications Ted Hanss refers to the organization's philosophy as "buy rather than build," meaning that I2 hopes to take advantage of investments in networking already made by its partner institutions, industry, and the government, to link these networks via GigaPoPs (gigabit-capacity points of presence) to be deployed across the country.

These GigaPoPs would serve as regional aggregation points, improving traffic efficiency through local packet exchange, while also providing a location for Web, database, and file system caching.

According to Wood, the GigaPoPs are also one example of how the Internet2 initiative and the Next Generation Internet initiative complement each other, even with their different constituent communities. "As Internet2 universities form regional networking collaborations, the GigaPoPs provide the means of reducing network connections to federal research Nets, including the vBNS, which are important to both I2 and NGI," says Wood.

The vBNS: A prototype for both Internets
The vBNS (very-high-performance Backbone Network Service), a project of the National Science Foundation and MCI Telecommunications, is a nationwide network that supports high-performance, high-bandwidth research applications. Like the old NSFnet, vBNS is a closed network, available only to the academic and research community. Currently it connects 46 academic institutions across the country, though a total of 92 have been approved for connectivity. A component of the vBNS project is research in high-speed networking and communications and transfer of this data to the broader networking community. In many ways, the vBNS is the prototype for both I2 and NGI. The kinds of applications that both I2 and NGI would like to foster are currently deployed on this network.

"The physical vBNS is about 18 months older than both the Internet2 and NGI initiatives," says George Strawn, director of the NSF Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure Division, "and the expansion of the goals of the vBNS with regards to research objectives also predates the two initiatives by about six months. We are, though, very glad to see other players joining the field. The more hands we have involved, the faster the work will go."

With regard to NGI and Internet2, Strawn says, "The vBNS is a crucial player in [President Clinton]'s Next Generation Internet and is the initial interconnect for Internet2 member institutions."

To date, 77 of the I2's 120 institutions are connected to the vBNS, which runs at 622 million bits per second (OC12) and is expected to operate at 2.4 gigabits per second (2,400 megabits per second) by the year 2000. Most I2 members participating on the vBNS are connected at OC3 rates (155 megabits per second), though some will connect at T3 and others at up to OC12.

(c) 1998 MCI Telecommunications Corporation

Since its formation in 1996, I2 has concentrated on defining the environment where I2-type applications will run, holding member meetings and demonstrations where developers express programming needs and innovations that will be incorporated into a set of network tools that do not currently exist. One such meeting is scheduled to be held later this month at the Highway 1 technology forum in Washington, D.C.

"Facilitating this type of communication between developers and researchers is an important component of Internet2," says Wood.

I2 member meetings also provide a forum for researchers to investigate trends that will contribute to the applications environment, including object-oriented programming, software componentization, object request brokering, dynamic run-time binding, multitiered applications delivery with separation of data, and presentation functions.

Internet2 also continues to define its relationship with the other Internet initiative, Next Generation Internet, at the same time as NGI explores how best to apply the experience and expertise of the I2 community to its task. While acknowledging their differences, in statements each initiative positions its relationship to the other, determining where the line between the two could or should be drawn and what benefit each brings to the other's agenda.

"The simple distinction between I2 and NGI is that I2 is a university-led effort focused on the research and education missions of higher education," says Wood. "NGI is a federally-funded initiative that is focused on the missions of the federal research agencies. This distinction, though, shouldn't hide the complementary aspects of the two initiatives. We are collaborating in many instances, like the GigaPoPs."

This attitude from I2 is consistent with the sentiment from the President's Advisory Committee on High Performance Computing, Information Technology, and the Next Generation Internet, which has been consulting with the NGI project developers since its inception last year. In a recent letter to President Clinton, the advisory committee stated, "We strongly encourage even closer coordination between the federal NGI initiative, the academic community's complementary program known as Internet2, and related federal and industrial efforts." So then, what exactly is NGI? And what isn't it?

Next Generation Internet: The top-down initiative
If I2 is the bottom-up solution to Internet congestion and the needs of the academic community -- the community itself organizing to create a better network environment -- NGI can be considered the top-down approach. It is a White House initiative, involving federal agencies, that reaches down to academia and the user community. Essentially, its mandate is to remove roadblocks to continued American dominance in technological innovation.

The initiative has become a mainstay of the President's speeches. In his 1998 State of the Union address, Clinton called for Congress to step up support for the initiative in order to reduce Internet congestion and "enable all the world's people to explore the far reaches of cyberspace." Clinton predicted that "the Next Generation Internet will operate at speeds of up to a thousand times faster than [today's Internet]."

A network running a thousand times faster than the Internet sounds like an amazing technological breakthrough, but as with I2, there's a lot of misconception about what the NGI initiative actually delivers.

Like I2, NGI isn't a new physical network. NGI depends upon networks -- and there are thousands nationally -- already in place and operational across the United States. The initiative depends upon funding first appropriated to federal agencies; money that is then reclassified within the agency to be spent on NGI activities.

The NGI roadmap
The NGI initiative is divided into three progressive stages, called "Goals" in NGI parlance. Goal 1 is underway now; Goal 3 is targeted for the end of next year.

Goal 1 calls for NGI to research, develop, and experiment with advanced network technologies that will provide dependability, diversity in classes of service, security, and realtime capability for such applications as wide area distributed computing, teleoperation, and remote control of experimental facilities. In this first phase, the project -- led by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- will set the stage for the technologies, applications, and test beds envisioned for Goals 2 and 3.

Other participating agencies in Goal 1 include the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Aeronautical and Space Association (NASA), the NSF, and -- beginning in fiscal year (FY) 1999 -- the Department of Energy (DoE).

Goal 2 -- led by the NSF -- "constructs" the actual NGI networks and also depends heavily upon the vBNS. NGI expects that Goal 1 development will, by this point, have overcome the speed bumps of incompatible performance capabilities and service models in switches, routers, local area networks, and workstations. In Goal 2, 100 sites (universities, federal research institutions, and other research partners) will be connected at speeds in excess of 100 times that of today's Internet.

As with I2, the vBNS would serve as a backbone for the network connecting NGI participants. To bring in other research partners and provide additional connectivity, the vBNS would interconnect to other federal research networks, including DREN (Defense), NREN (NASA), ESnet (DoE), and eventually SuperNet (DARPA's terabyte research network). The vBNS would also serve as a base for interconnecting to foreign high-performance networks, including the Canadian CA*net II, and others routed through the Science, Technology, and Research Transit Access Point (STAR-TAP) in Chicago.

"Having the federal agencies interconnect via NGI makes for a very rich experimental environment," says the NSF's Strawn.

Goal 2 of the NGI project also has the most planned collaboration with Internet2. NGI officials foresee the NSF supporting the GigaPoPs that would interconnect the I2 institutions and coordinating I2 and NGI interconnectivity to support interoperability and shared experimentation with NGI technologies and applications.

Selection for inclusion in the 100-site network or the 10-site network will depend upon two things: Sites will need to have applications that would use NGI capabilities, and they will need to have developers who will work with network researchers -- people like the National Laboratory for Applied Network Research who will be studying the network -- to continue to evolve the NGI infrastructure.

The Internet speed President Clinton is fond of speaking of comes in the second, high-risk, high-security, test bed planned for the second phase of Goal 2. In this phase, 10 sites will be connected on a network employing ultra-high speed switching and transmission technologies and end-to-end network connectivity at more than 1 gigabit per second -- approximately 1000 times faster than today's Internet. This 1-gigabit per second network is intended to provide the research base for an eventual terabyte-per-second network that would employ NGI conceived and developed technologies for harnessing such speed. A 1-terabyte per second network additionally takes advantage of optical technology pioneered by DARPA in the Broadband Information Technology (BIT) program. BIT demonstrated wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), a technique of mixing many wavelengths onto the same optical fiber. Essentially, WDM has the ability to turn narrow communication links into multiple-lane communication highways.

While the concept of a "next generation Internet"
has seeped into the American consciousness
and garnered considerable public support,
the project still faces a battle with Congress
at appropriations time each year

Goal 3 of NGI is similar in thrust to the Internet2 project. Hoping to take advantage of the growing relationship with the I2 community, Goal 3 is to develop, test, and deploy applications such as remote surgery, robotics, teleinstrumentation, automated crisis response, digital libraries of satellite data, distance learning via multimedia supported Web sites, secure Internet commerce and transaction, enhanced audio, and video capacity.

As a federal initiative, dependent upon the reallocation of appropriated agency resources, NGI faces a trickier funding scenario than I2. Whereas I2 draws upon membership dues and industry support and contributions, NGI requires the support of Congress.

When first proposed in 1996, the initiative was tabled from consideration by Congress because it was thought to be "too undeveloped." The initiative was then reviewed and rewritten and resubmitted for consideration in July 1997, and received a total of $85 million -- $15 million less than the administration asked for -- for 1998. The total amount is divvied up between the participating agencies; DARPA, NSF, NASA, NIST, and the National Library of Medicine. President Clinton's budget for 1999 asks for $109 million for NGI activities, again to be shared between participating agencies; the same as for fiscal year 1998 with the addition of DoE.

While the concept of a "next-generation Internet" has seeped into the American consciousness and garnered considerable public support, the project still faces a battle with Congress at appropriations time each year, especially as Congress looks for new ways to reduce spending while cutting taxes.

Currently, NGI seems to have found favor with several members of Congress. On February 5, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) -- chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space -- and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) -- chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee -- introduced S.1609, Next Generation Internet Research Act of 1998 which authorizes appropriations for participating federal agencies for the fiscal years 1999 and 2000. On March 4, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced companion legislation in the House.

The initiative also has a strong champion in the executive Branch today, and a proponent in Democratic presidential hopeful Vice President Gore, but were the presidency to change hands in 2000, the project could conceivably lose momentum if not strongly embraced and endorsed by the participating agencies, who have so far indicated support for NGI.

"We are pleased to see support of the initiative from Congress," says Strawn. "It's good to see Congress partner with the administration and its agencies, with universities, and the private sector towards a common goal of revolutionizing the Internet as we know it. I perceive this as a strongly bipartisan initiative."

  Next Generation Internet Internet2
Founded October 1997 October 1997
Initiative lead by White House University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID)
Funding source Congress University community, corporate sponsorship
1998 Funding investments $85 million $3.1 million (dues) + in campus networks
Participating networks vBNS, DREN, NREN, ESnet, SuperNet, CA*net II, STAR-TAP vBNS, Individual campus networks
Goals Advanced application development, deployment of networking tools, prototype & deployment of new high speed networks Advanced application development, deployment of networking tools

The impossible becomes commonplace
More than likely, the innovations technologists forecast will come to pass, though they may seem inconceivable or beyond technical and human limitations now. There is good reason why Clinton is fond of pointing out that five years ago the Internet hosted some 50 Web sites, compared to the 1.5 million new Web sites he claims are now created daily.

The current Internet exploded once it was opened up for commercial use and privatization. Both I2 and NGI include industry as part of their advisory and actual or envisioned working teams, a nod to the future when the technologies or applications developed within either initiative -- be they terabyte-per-second networks, quality of service tools, digital libraries, or remote collaboration environments -- are ready for and applicable to the market place.

"On today's Internet it sometimes takes many seconds to get one picture, while on tomorrow's Internet, you're going to get many pictures in one second," predicts Strawn. "This means high definition video, such as that being used now for scientific visualization. It's only a matter of time until industry seizes upon and spins this technology off into other worlds of interest to folks outside the sciences, like the entertainment industry. We're providing the product that they will deliver to a demanding market."

Both initiatives have obstacles before them -- I2 depends upon academic resources and investment; and NGI, relies on Congressional budgets and endorsement. Both expect to produce meaningful results by the year 2000, and expectations for both plans are very high.

Still, there is cautious hope within their respective communities that I2 and NGI can create not a new Internet, but a new Internet environment, within which the nation's technological dreams come true.

"We think we can turn the crank again," says Strawn, reflecting upon the NSF's role in creating the first generation Internet and forecasting the future. "As long as the technology is changing so rapidly and so radically, there remains an opportunity for government, university researchers, and industrial partners to do what the private sector can't do by itself."