Internet revamp plan continues

The US federal government is pushing ahead with its Next Generation Internet (NGI) project, an effort to develop testbed networks that will be from 100 to 1000 times faster than the current Internet.

These networks will serve as testbeds for new applications whose development and deployment require a network infrastructure that is faster and more reliable than today's Internet, several government officials said during a panel discussion on Tuesday at the Supercomputing 98 show.

"We're becoming more and more dependent on the Internet for conducting business, for education, for entertainment. The Internet has to scale and become much more than it is today," said Mari Maeda, NGI's program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the central research and development organisation for the US Department of Defense (DOD.)The Internet has to become bigger, more secure, more reliable, more robust, more manageable and better able to handle an increasing variety of services, devices and applications, Maeda said.

The NGI program kicked off in October 1997 and last month received a $US110 million assignment from the US Congress for its second year, according to the National Coordination Office (NCO) for Computing, Information and Communications, a US government entity that coordinates IT research and development among 12 federal agencies. Also last month, US President Bill Clinton signed into law the NGI Research Act, designed to facilitate the group's activities, according to NCO.

The network that will be 100 times faster than today's Internet -- known as the 100x testbed -- will link at least 100 sites, including federal agencies, universities and research institutions. The 1000x testbed, which will be 1000 times faster than the current Net, on the other hand, will connect only about 10 sites.

These NGI testbeds will be used by government agencies, universities and others to develop and test new network technologies and bandwidth-intensive applications for areas like education, healthcare, manufacturing, defence and crisis management.

"The goal is for these networks to have sufficient stability that application developers will invest their time to develop revolutionary applications that require high performance networking," said George Strawn, director of the division of networking and communications research and infrastructure at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Virginia.

It is expected that these efforts will also lead, for example, to the development of advanced technologies like terabit-per-second (Tbit/sec) networks. Once tried and tested, these applications and technologies could be picked up by the private sector which could then market and deliver them to the general population, officials said.

The NGI program collaborates with a similar effort called Internet2, a project led by a consortium of about 130 US universities that want to create next-generation applications and faster, more reliable Internet links among themselves, NSF's Strawn said.

Some of the agencies participating in the NGI program are the DOD, the NSF and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

More information about the NGI program can be found at http://www.ngi.gov/ or at http://www.ccic.gov/.

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