Internet2

Although today's Internet is often credited with creating so much change that society is still racing to catch up, it has also come to be seen as unwieldy, hidebound and problematic -- ripe for revision or replacement. Security issues, spam, slow downloads and the exploding need for URLs are only some of its problems. The Internet is sometimes seen as a victim of its own success, and several initiatives are under way to develop the Internet of the future.

Internet2 is one of those initiatives, and it has a longer history than most of the others. The launch of the first Web browser, Mosaic, in 1993 marked the transition of the Internet from a university/ research-oriented tool to a commercial and public institution service. Three years later, a group of 36 scientists met in Chicago to discuss ways of developing and implementing a new Internet, which they named Internet2. The project has come to be formally administered by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID).

Internet2 is now a consortium made up of more than 200 U.S. universities, 70 private companies and 40 other organizations, including U.S. government laboratories. It is connected to similar initiatives around the world. Collaboration and competition may be the twin watchwords for all these initiatives as they attempt to develop higher bandwidth connectivity, improved network protocols and advanced applications that are not possible under the limitations of the current Internet.

Internet2 has four primary areas of interest and development, according to its Web site: 1) high-performance networks that will have higher bandwidth, 2) advanced network applications to improve collaboration among people and to provide interactive access to information and resources, 3) new network capabilities, such as improved quality of service, multicasting and Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), that will improve throughput and management of network traffic, and 4) middleware.

Internet2 isn't after a "killer app," according to Ted Hanss, the group's director for applications development. Instead, it describes four attributes that are found in the most compelling applications: They enable interactive collaboration environments; they provide common access to remote resources; they use the network as a "backplane" to build networkwide computation and data services, such as those under development in a grid; and they display information through virtual environments.

Internet2 is a shifting and somewhat competitive collaboration that has grown in ways that have been determined by the market. For example, the bursting of the telecommunications bubble in 2002 presented several opportunities for universities to save money by buying unused fiber-optic cable, known as dark fiber, and creating their own networks.

Network backbones constructed out of and leased from companies that had plenty of dark fiber on their hands linked university campuses and research sites. Some of these networks include I-WIRE, which connects the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne with other universities and research institutions in the Chicago area. Another is the CENIC network, which connects University of California campuses, California State University campuses, California Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Southern California.

Internet2 originally had a contract with Qwest Communications International Inc. for a national backbone, named Abilene after the railheads that met in Abilene, Kan., to transport cattle. That network handled data at a maximum of 10Gbit/sec. It also used the IPv6 protocol rather than IPv4, which is standard on the public Internet. IPv6 uses 128-bit Internet addresses instead of the 32-bit addresses used by IPv4, which increases the number of available addresses from about 4 billion to about 1028 times that. Thus, it's more likely that there will be addresses for all of the wired, personal-use equipment that is expected to come online.

Abilene, in conjunction with another backbone provider called National Lambda-Rail, also served as a testbed for Internet2's Hybrid Optical and Packet Infrastructure project, an attempt to take the best features of packet-switched networks (such as the current Internet) and circuit-switched networks (such as old-time phone lines).

Subsequently, Internet2 held talks with National Lambda-Rail, which provides connectivity to a consortium of universities and research institutions, to provide a backbone for Internet2. (The Lambdain the name refers to the wavelengths of light that provide data transmission in fiber-optic networks, and the Rail is another instance of nostalgia for railroad networks.) However, those talks broke down, and Internet2 signed a contract with Level 3 Communications Inc.to lease fiber-optic lines, acquiring 10 times the capacity that had been provided by Abilene. The new network will be called NewNet.

There are other high-speed research-oriented networks, including one called vBNS, developed by MCI Inc.for the National Science Foundation.And there are other umbrella organizations with similar goals to those of Internet2, such as the U.S. government's Next Generation Internet project. The institutional and funding relationships are themselves densely networked.

Although the U.S. was the original home of the Internet, with its origins in the ARPANet, today the race for a new Internet extends throughout the world, with implications for global collaboration and competition.

More about Backplane Systems TechnologyBillionCommunications InternationalInternet2Level 3 CommunicationsMCIQwestQwest CommunicationsSECSpeedStanford University

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