GETTING PUMPED.(Internet2, the Next Generation Internet Initiative (NGII))(Technology Information)
Friday, January 1, 1999
By Gina Fraone
COPYRIGHT © 1999 Cahners Publishing Company
Investments being made in the next-generation Internet are expected to reap significant business opportunities. The Internet is not capable of handling sophisticated applications in its current state. Many Internet backbone providers, such as Sprint, MCI Worldcom, Qwest Communications International, and Bell Atlantic have donated sections of their already-existing commercial networks to various next-generation Internet projects. Bandwidth increases of 100 to 1,000 times the speeds currently achieved on the current Internet are anticipated. This will allow sophisticated applications to be deployed on an enormous scale. There are two major next-generation Internet research projects currently being worked on in the United States, Internet2 and the Next Generation Internet Initiative. (author)
EVEN THOUGH THE INTERNET IS EVOLVING AT WARP SPEED, THE AVERAGE USER’S ONLINE EXPERIENCE IS STILL often an exercise in hurry-up-and-wait. Even with a 56K modem or an ISDN line, video images are often tiny and grainy, sound quality is mediocre and large files still take forever to download. There is a lot of progress to be made before the Internet comes close to TV for image and sound quality, especially with the advent of high – definition TV .
In its present state, the Internet does not have the capabilities to handle the sophisticated applications individuals and businesses want it to perform, says John Patrick, vice president of Internet Technology at IBM Corp, Armonk, NY. Take, for instance, the ability to video teleconference with co-workers spread out around the world without the worry of delays in sound and images. Or being able to simultaneously work on a project with a co-worker miles away.
To make the Internet a faster, more robust and, most importantly, a smarter network, governments, educational institutions and corporations around the world are investing in myriad next-generation Internet (NGI) projects. For the last couple of years now, several billion dollars have been invested annually by industry in next-generation developments, according to Tony Rutkowski, director of the Next Generation Internet Center, an independent research firm in Herndon, VA. Those involved say that we should be seeing the fruits of this investment within the next five years. Indeed, these innovations are expected to spur a whole new round of Internet-based investment and product development.
Rather than building thousands of miles of new Internet infrastructure, Internet backbone providers, such as MCI Worldcom, Sprint, Bell Atlantic and Qwest Communications International, have donated sections of the fabric of their already-existing commercial networks to respective NGI projects. These projects involve increasing bandwidth in some sections of the test-bed networks from 100 times to as much as 1,000 times the speed of the current commercially used Internet so highly sophisticated applications can be deployed and field tested on an enormous scale.
For example, the medical community is working on 3-D imaging of the brain and other parts of the human anatomy. A robust network between research hospitals is needed to transport the enormous volume of data and to reliably provide the important audio and video connection. With this sort of application, a research hospital could instruct resident physicians and students at remote locations by sharing and Interacting with an accurate 3-D model of the temporal bone, the portion. of the human skull that houses the organs of hearing and balance. There are any number of similar applications for other industries. For example, think of using that 3-D imaging capability for the development of an electronic component with several top engineers located around the world.
“Allowing these projects private use of miles of Internet infrastructure allows new applications to be rested without affecting the commercial side,” says Chris Buja, international development manager for Advanced Internet Initiatives at Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose. Not surprisingly, Cisco is involved in several next-generation Internet projects including those initiated by the U.S. government, the Canadian government and U.S. universities. “It allows researchers to find out what works and what doesn’t work, what causes backbones to fail without interrupting commercial service,” says Buja.
“By donating parts of the network, [backbone providers] have taken away the restraints of working in a lab,” says Lou Wilks, president of business markets for Denver-based Qwest Communications International Inc , which has donated network fabric to two NGI projects. “[Qwest has] given these [NGI] projects a clean sheet of paper and asked them to utilize it with their most creative ideas,” he says. In return, their involvement is helping Qwest learn about the latest innovations in next-generation technology so it can stay competitive, says Wilks.
There are two major next-generation Internet research projects in the United States the Next Generation Internet Initiative (NGII), which was started by the U.S. government on Oct. 1, 1997, and Internet2 (12), which was formed in October 1996 by a group of 34 U.S. universities (See the list of Web sites for international NGI projects, p. 66).
The federal government’s NGI initiative involves five different test-bed networks, supported respectively by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA and the National Institute of Health (See “The five federal networks under the U.S. NGI Initiative,” below) Congress has approved three years of funding for the NGII, starting with FY98 to FY00, with the option to renew for two more years Congress upped the award for FY99 to $110 million from $85 million in FY98, according to Kay Howell, director of the National Coordination Office (NCO) for Computing, Information and Communications When the five years are up, the test-bed networks will be returned to the commercial network, and NGI-developed applications and technologies will be available to the business sector for incorporation into services for schools, work places and homes, says Howell.
The other major initiative, I2, is organized and operated as a not-for-profit called the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID) in Washington, D.C. Though many U.S. universities are actively involved in assisting the federal government in its NGI initiative, the efforts of I2 are focused on advancing the Internet purely for educational purposes, says Greg Wood, spokesperson for UCAID Since its inception in 1996, the I2 project has increased from 34 to over 130 member universities. In addition to the universities, each of which has agreed to pledge at least $500,000 a year while the project is active, I2 includes 13 corporate sponsors, all technology firms (See “The Lucky 13,” at the bottom). Each corporate member has agreed to donate $1 million to the project, but many have exceeded that minimum, says Wood. “For 1998, a conservative estimate of the total amount pledged by corporate sponsors would be $30 million.” Wood adds that it’s difficult to place a dollar amount on the companies’ contributions since many have been in the form of materials and
Why a separate initiative for universities? “Since the commercialization of the Internet, universities have felt that they were paying more and getting less,” says IBM’s Patrick, whose company is one of UCAID’s corporate sponsors. “Because of the huge increase in traffic, universities were paying more for access but not getting the high speeds they need for research.” Also, the project can be focused on advancing research techniques and teaching methods, says Patrick. One example is full-screen distance learning, which would allow television monitors to broadcast courses or seminars over the Internet to multiple classrooms in several different countries concurrently, he says Rather than what we’re used to seeing–a grainy video image that barely fills a quarter of the screen–the image will be television quality and fill the whole screen.
The payoff for corporate members is huge “[IBM sees] the NGI Initiative and the Internet2 project as consistent with our bigger strategy as an e-business company,” says Patrick. “We’re gaining the knowledge, experience and skills of the country’s best Internet researchers by being involved.”
UCAID’s largest effort to date is the construction of a test-bed network dubbed. “Abilene” Under the overall direction of UCAID, the Abilene Project team currently includes Qwest, Cisco and Nortel Networks As part of its contribution, Qwest has agreed to make available part of its nationwide fiber network and a large number of points of access Nortel has also contributed significantly to the development and provisioning of this network while Cisco has provided a set of its state-of-the-art 12000 Series routers and software to create highly advanced routing capability over links of up to 2 4-gigabits-per-second, according to UCAID’s Wood. To put it into perspective, by the end of year, Abilene will be fast enough to transport the entire contents of the Library of Congress from New York to Los Angeles in
seconds, he says.
How quickly will the rest of the world start to see results from both of these initiatives? “Almost immediately,” says Qwest’s Wilks. “Commercial demand curves in Internet service are incredible,” he says.
NCO’s Howell says the government is encouraging businesses to start adopting what they are learning as soon as possible She also believes that the government isn’t going to have to push very hard for this to happen “Demand for Internet services is growing at 400% a year,” she says. “Companies need higher performance capabilities now just to keep up with the demand.”
Increasing bandwidth is an enormous factor in improving the quality of the Internet, but the real difference with the current Internet and the new-and-improved Internet will be the middleware, says Joel Mambretti, director of the International Center for Advanced Internet
Research ([CARI.sup.1]) in Chicago.
Middleware is software that will help the Internet distinguish between high-, medium- and low-priority data, says. Mambretti Currently, the Internet can be described as a “best-effort services network,” he says. That is, the current Internet treats data packets that contain e-mail no differently than data packets that contain. digital video images and sound.
“A best-effort Internet doesn’t care about routing,” says Michael Turzanski, deputy director of Advanced Internet Initiatives at Cisco. But the improved Internet will be a “differentiated-services network” that will be able to distinguish one data flow from another E-mail, for example, is not as time sensitive, as say, a digitally transmitted image from a telescope sent from one scientist in Hawaii to another scientist in Ohio With the current Internet, everything flows through the network on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Advancements in middleware will also give users more choices, adds [CAIR’s.sub.1] Mambretti For example, when requesting an image from a Web site, he will be told how long a color image will take to download. If a user thinks the time to download color is too long, the user can switch the image to black and white.
Because these types of improvement are mainly software upgrades, the commercial sector of the Internet should receive these changes “within two to three years,” says Cisco’s Turzanski.
With all that speed and intelligence available, what kinds of applications can we look forward to in the next five years?.
A differentiated services network with high-speed capabilities would bring immediate improvement to digital-video transmission, says IBM’s Patrick Schools and businesses would be able to enjoy “full-screen distance learning with the same clarity and resolution on their PCs as a television,” he says. It would also enhance cooperation and collaboration in medicine and surgery. “A specialist could receive a high-quality transmission of a mammogram and make the diagnosis miles from the patient. Or one surgeon would be able to assist another surgeon performing an operation in a different country,” says Patrick.
This kind of technology would also help IBM’s e-business, Patrick believes. “An engineer in the United States would be able to collaborate on a design with an engineer in Japan,” he says. As soon as a change is made on the design, all design team members would see the changes.
The newer software applications will also be emphasizing a more user-friendly interface, says Qwest’s Wilks. One example voice recognition “[Qwest is] always asking, ‘How do we get more consumers using the Internet?'”. One way is to move away from the concept of URLs. “Most consumers don’t even know what a URL is,” says Wilks.
IP telephony comes of age
A differentiated-services Internet also will mean better phone connections. Using the Internet for telephone calls in the home and offices (Internet protocol, or IP telephony) will become common, says [CAIR’s.sub.1] Mambretti And though it won’t be as ubiquitous as IP telephony, virtual reality (VR) applications will become more robust.
The invention of the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago has already made VR a commercially viable application, says Tom Defanti, director of EVL With CAVE, a user can actually stand or sit inside a virtual environment. “General Motors uses the lab to simulate the interior of cars before they actually build them. They check out placement on the dashboard, the look, the feel of the interior design,” says Defanti And Caterpillar Tractors, Peoria, IL, uses CAVE to check from the cab of its tractors for visibility problems before actually building from the design, he says.
While academics are designing next-generation technology that benefits their research, businesses are poised to capitalize on the NGI innovations. “There’s been a lot of recent innovation in distributed computation and storage data out of these Internet initiatives, which is now allowing astronomers to map star data,” says Cisco’s Buja. “After learning about this advancement, one financial company immediately started thinking of those stars as consumers and transactions”.
So where can an ordinary business person go to learn about the latest advancements even if their company is not investing millions in Internet technology?. Says Mambretti. “One of my colleagues likes to say, ‘If you want to see the future, get yourself to a supercomputing center'”. Supercomputers are playing a large part in NGI initiatives since these giant networks require the power of such systems. As a result, a lot of exciting activity concerning the Internet is centered where there are supercomputers, he says (For a list of 500 supercomputer centers worldwide, see www top 500 org).
“People aren’t seeing how fast things are going in the advancement of the Internet;” says IBM’s Patrick. “I liken this to the Berlin Wall going down in Europe. Six months before it happened, if I gave a speech in Paris or Munich that said a bulldozer would come along and knock the wall down, people would have said I was crazy. But there it was, six months later, on the front page of the paper–the bulldozer.
THE LUCKY 13 (Internet2 corporate partners) — SOURCE UCAID
- Advanced Network & Services
- Cabletron Systems
- Cisco Systems
- FORE Systems
- Lucent Technologies
- MCI WorldCom
- Newbridge Networks
- Nortel/Bay Networks
- Qwest Communications
- StarBurst Communications
THE GLOBAL NEXT-GEN INTERNET
Links to Web sites ofInternational next-generation Internet projects – SOURCE: CISCO SYSTEMS
Country Project and link to Country website
The five federal networks under the U.S. NGI Initiative
THESE TEST-BED NETWORKS ARE NOT YET AVAILABLE FOR COMMERCIAL USE
ATDnet: The Advanced Technology Demonstration Network (ATDnet), located in the Washington, D C , area, was established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to enable collaboration among Defense and other federal agencies ATDnet has a primary goal to serve as an experimental platform for diverse network research and demonstration initiatives. Emphasis is on early deployment of emerging asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and synchronous optical network (SONET) technologies Backbone service is provided by Bell Atlantic Corp, New York.
DREN: The Defense Research and Engineering Network (DREN) is a sophisticated and robust Department of Defense (DOD) communications network Incorporating the best operational capabilities of both the DOD and the commercial telecommunications infrastructure, DREN has become the DOD’s premier long-haul communication service provider for the government’s high-performance computing community. Its long-term goal is to transfer DREN’s leading-edge network and security technology across the DOD and other federal agencies Backbone service is provided by AT&T Corp., New York.
vBNS: The very-high-performance Backbone Network Service (vBNS) is a nationwide network that operates at a speed of 622-megabits-per-second using MCI’s network of advanced switching and fiber-optic transmission technologies. At speeds of 622-Mbirs-per-second, 322 copies of a 300-page book can be sent every seven seconds.
Launched in April 1995, the vBNS is the product of a five-year cooperative agreement between MCI Worldcom and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide a high-bandwidth network for research applications.
The vBNS was designed for the scientific and research communities and originally provided high-speed interconnection among NSF supercomputing centers and connection to NSF-specified network access points. Today the vBNS connects two NSF supercomputing centers and research institutions that are selected under the NSF’s high-performance connections program.
NREN: NASA Research and Education Network (NREN) cooperates with other agencies, industries and academia to conduct end-to-end demonstration test beds of new high-performance networking applications for the NASA community NREN focuses on nationally important applications that can’t be achieved with NASA’s current network. Backbone service is provided by Sprint Corp , Kansas City.
SUPERNET: Part of DARPA, SUPERNET is composed of a variety of high-speed technologies and test beds, enabling researchers to collaborate and experiment with advanced networking technologies and applications in a diverse, high-capacity, wide-area environment. SUPERNET will connect at least 10 sites at speeds 1,000 times faster end-to-end than today’s Internet. The network will begin to come online in early spring of 1999. Additional SUPERNET sites will be specified in 1999. Backbone service providers still to be determined.