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Public Roads - Jan/Feb 1999

Internet Watch

Internet2 - The Internet Grows Again

by Kristen Iden

Just when you thought, "Finally! I've caught up! I know what a browser is, I know that e-mail is really a good thing, and I know that multimedia doesn't mean a stereo and a television," things go and change. This change is happening right under our noses. No, this article isn't about Y2K issues or what effect that will have on all of us who are connected to the world through cables and modems. This change is about a new Internet that advances the breadth and depth of network computing and will change how research is conducted. This change is Internet2, and eventually, its impact will be felt on your desktop.

Remember the old party telephone lines? You know, the ones that if you were unfortunate enough you shared with half of the neighborhood? They were phased-out of most areas during the 1970s - and for good reason. That telephone line was nearly impossible to do business on because either someone else was using it, or someone else might momentarily decide that it was their turn on the party line. Well, if you are old enough to remember those lines and the inconvenience that went along with them, then you can liken that experience to trying to conduct high-speed computing, which requires huge amounts of bandwidth across today's commercial Web world. Every time you use the Internet for its original given purpose - to conduct research - somebody else picks up the "party line."

The Internet, in all its current glory, was first the stomping ground of the academic communities. Scientists and researchers had been fooling around with versions of the Internet concept since the 1960s. When it finally became a viable tool, capable of graphics and e-mail and multimedia, the commercial world found out about it. Ever since then, we've been gumming up the works. We've added advertising, audio files, and simulcast television to the before-pristine and (relatively) unused cyberworld. Now practically everybody has an e-mail address and a Web site! How is a researcher supposed to get any research done with everyone else clogging up the line?

The answer is: Researchers aren't getting their research done on the Internet. It has become such a widespread problem for the academic community that 132 universities have banded together, along with some government and industry partners, to create Internet2. The impressive list of contributing partners reads like a who's who in the brain-trust department: NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), Stanford, MIT, Harvard, IBM, Cisco and others.

The Internet2 project was born in October 1996, and has now changed identities, although the mission remains the same. The project has now given rise to its own group, the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID). This group is given guidance by the UCAID Board of Trustees, which is made up of presidents, chancellors, and academic chairs from universities across the United States. Internet2 is also working with the Next Generation Internet (NGI), initiative which is a multi-agency federal research and development program that is developing advanced networking technologies, along with revolutionary applications that require advanced networking. They are demonstrating these applications on testbeds that are 100 to 1,000 times faster end-to-end than today's Internet.

Internet2 is designed to provide a variety of on-demand services for users that require advanced network applications. Those participating in Internet2 will be able to select services that deliver low data loss, highcapacity, or the capability of "multi-casting" - delivering information from one data point of service to many data points of service. Internet2 will also be bounded with new protocols that allow users to access the backbone that comprises Internet2. This is an interesting concept, but the particulars are beyond the casual user. Internet2 is to facilitate collaboration, distance learning, and the integration of multimedia digital library collections with academic programs.

Now that the background of this formidable project is known, what is it doing and how will it affect me? The goal for fall 1998 was to have a stable hook-up for all the participating universities and to have a new creature called gigaPoPs - short for gigabit Points of Presence - up and running. It will provide regional connections for universities.

Gradually, researchers will move from the current Web to their new "home" on Internet2 to conduct their research. The average user (you and me) will benefit from this migration. Theoretically, the regular Web will be less crowded because more researchers will be using Internet2. In fact, it is estimated that 70 percent of the traffic through university Web sites and networks is from non-university sources. Another benefit for users is that they will be able to reap the benefits of the new research generated from those using Internet2.

The researchers (academic and government) benefit from using Internet2 because they will be able to not only do their research in relative peace, but also they will once again be able to concentrate on developing new bleeding-edge technology - the kind of information that helps us build roadways and highways better, faster, and cheaper. All the information we currently have available on the traditional Internet will still be there - it will just be enhanced with the findings made possible by Internet2. You won't see Internet2 on your desktop. It is not a Web site, nor a search engine, nor any other kind of Internet creature now available. It won't be accessible to the majority of people.

People involved in the project are predicting that Internet2 will take the research community, and larger commercial communities, into the next millennium. The hope is that the incredible technology advantage enjoyed by the United States will continue, based on the research and work done for Internet2. Additionally, those in charge of Internet2 hope to exploit the capabilities of broadband networks, media integration, interactivity, and real-time collaboration. By creating applications capable of working at higher networking capability, we all benefit.

Internet2 is not a cheap proposition. The universities involved in the project have thus far committed more than $50 million a year since 1996 to fund the project and will continue to do so until it is operational. Regular university members pay $25,000 a year in dues and have allotted, or will spend, an additional $500,000 in preparing their institution for Internet2. So far, the corporate partners have additionally committed more than $20 million for the life of the project. Additional monies are expected in the form of grants from NSF and other government R & D facilities.

If you visit the Internet2 Web site, you will find additional information about Internet2. If you visit the UCAID site, you can find out more about UCAID, Internet2, and the Abilene project (which is developing the backbone to carry Internet2). The government Web sites for NSF and the National Coordination Office on Computing, Information, and Communications (NCO) offer information on the NGI initiative and tie-ins to the Internet2 project.

For more information on the Internet2 project, check out David L. Wasley's commentary, entitled "Internet Too!", which was originally published on the University of California's Web site. This is also available on the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center Web site.

Technology - It's a grand and terrible thing! Happy surfing!

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