Tolly's column: 'Net forum takes the application view of QoS

The Next Generation Internet (NGI) Forum is off to a fine start. Last month, 50 delegates gathered at Argonne National Laboratories for the first official NGI Forum Information Exchange. Attending the event were business, government and education representatives, as well as network equipment vendors, application suppliers and service providers.

Not surprisingly, a common theme throughout the day was quality of service (QoS). Like most net managers, members of the NGI Forum are spending a fair bit of time grappling with the mechanics of various QoS initiatives, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force's Differentiated Services (DiffServ), IEEE 802.1p and the QoS Alliance.

Where the NGI Forum differs from most groups is that it wants to discuss QoS in terms of NGI application requirements. Ultimately, unless next-generation networks can meet the technical requirements of next-generation applications, deployment will not be possible.

While most of us tend to fixate on guaranteed bandwidth when we discuss QoS, keynote speaker Rick Stevens, Argonne's deputy associate laboratory director for physical research, and director of the mathematics and computer science division, advised the audience not to stop there. Extremely low latency is just as important as every bit of bandwidth.

Stevens' work in building interactive, virtual environments at Argonne has established that guaranteed low latency will be mandatory if sophisticated applications are to run in real time across the NGI.

And whatever the bandwidth and latency guarantees, NGI managers need to know that providers are delivering as promised, which brings us to service-level agreements (SLA). While individual providers are still trying to figure out how to prove compliance with single-provider SLAs, NGI managers are, quite rightly, concerned about SLAs that cross provider boundaries. After all, unless the bandwidth and latency are within thresholds end to end, there is little point in deploying an advanced application.

Ultimately, managers believe the NGI needs to achieve utility status in which there is no degradation of service when crossing among domains of different service providers.

All of this leads to the agenda for the next NGI Forum meeting scheduled for mid-March.

At this meeting, we hope to hear from representatives of the key groups attempting to provide the framework for QoS. A member of the DiffServ committee has already volunteered to update us on that effort.

Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing firm in Manasquan, New Jersey.

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