By now, anyone who reads the morning paper has probably heard that the Internet will be an even bigger deal in the future than it is today. School children will access all the great works of literature ever written with the click of a mouse, surgery will be performed via cyberspace, all transactions with the government will be conducted via your personal computer, making bureaucratic line ups a thing of the past.
Sound too good to be true? Much of what has been written about two buzzword initiatives, Internet2 (I2) and the Next Generation Internet (NGI), would lead one to believe that these scenarios are just around the corner.
And some may be. Already in the works are projects to split the spectrum of light traveling the Internet's optical networks, allowing high priority traffic to pass at the highest and least interrupted frequency, while passing low priority traffic (i.e. your e-mail) along at a lower frequency. Teleinstrumentation the remote operation of such rare resources as satellites and electron microscopes has been demonstrated. Digital libraries containing environmental data have been used to simulate natural and man made disasters for emergency response teams. Classrooms and entire universities have gone online, making remote education an option for students.
But misconceptions about I2 and NGI abound, first and foremost that they are interchangeable terms for the same project, closely followed by the perception that the government is hard at work right now digging trenches and laying cable for what is to be a brand new Internet.
I2 and NGI are separate and distinctly different initiatives. It's easiest to think of them as two different answers to the same plaguing problem. The problem is congestion on the commercially available Internet.
The need for a new Internet
Prior to 1995, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) NSFnet served the research and academic community and allowed for cross country communications on relatively unclogged T3 (45 megabit per second) lines that were unavailable for commercial use. However, NSFnet went public in 1995, setting the stage for today's Internet. As the Internet has become irrevocably a part of life, the increase in e-mail traffic and the proliferation of graphically dense pages have eaten up valuable bandwidth.
With all of this data congealing in cyberspace, for the Internet currently knows no differentiation between a Web site belonging to Arthur Andersen or Pamela Anderson there has arisen a critical need for a new Internet. The answers to the questions for what purpose and for who's use vary depending upon the proposed solution.
Internet2: The bottom-up initiative
Internet2 is the university community's response to the need for a return to dedicated bandwidth for academic and research use exclusively. Currently, about 120 universities and 25 corporate sponsors are members of Internet2, which in October 1997 incorporated itself forming the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID).
UCAID now serves as the support and administrative organisation for the project known as Internet2. Members pay an annual fee of between $10,000 and $25,000 and must demonstrate that they are making a definitive, substantial, and continuing commitment to the development, evolution, and use of networking facilities and applications in the conduct of research and education before they are approved for membership.
Internet2 represents the interests of the academic community through its concentration on applications that require more bandwidth and end to end quality of service than is available relying upon the commercial Internet. I2 is focused upon the needs of academia first, but is expected to develop technologies and applications that will eventually make their way into the rest of society.
The vBNS: A prototype for both Internets
The vBNS (very-high-performance Backbone Network Service), a project of the National Science Foundation and MCI Telecommunications, is a nationwide network that supports high performance, high bandwidth research applications. Like the old NSFnet, vBNS is a closed network, available only to the academic and research community. Currently it connects 46 academic institutions across the country, though a total of 92 have been approved for connectivity. A component of the vBNS project is research into high speed networking and communications and transfer of this data to the broader networking community. In many ways, the vBNS is the prototype for both I2 and NGI. The kinds of applications that both I2 and NGI would like to foster are currently deployed on this network.
Since its formation in 1996, I2 has concentrated on defining the environment where I2-type applications will run, holding member meetings and demonstrations where developers express programming needs and innovations that will be incorporated into a set of network tools that do not currently exist. One such meeting is scheduled to be held later this month at the Highway 1 technology forum in Washington, D.C.
I2 member meetings also provide a forum for researchers to investigate trends that will contribute to the applications environment, including object oriented programming, software componentisation, object request brokering, dynamic run time binding, multitiered applications delivery with separation of data, and presentation functions.
Internet2 also continues to define its relationship with the other Internet initiative, Next Generation Internet, at the same time as NGI explores how best to apply the experience and expertise of the I2 community to its task. While acknowledging their differences, in statements each initiative positions its relationship to the other, determining where the line between the two could or should be drawn and what benefit each brings to the other's agenda.
The NGI roadmap
The NGI initiative is divided into three progressive stages, called goals in NGI parlance. Goal 1 is underway now, Goal 3 is targeted for the end of next year.
Goal 1 calls for NGI to research, develop, and experiment with advanced network technologies that will provide dependability, diversity in classes of service, security, and realtime capability for such applications as wide area distributed computing, teleoperation, and remote control of experimental facilities. In this first phase, the project, led by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) - will set the stage for the technologies, applications, and test beds envisioned for Goals 2 and 3.
Goal 2 led by the NSF constructs the actual NGI networks and also depends heavily upon the vBNS. NGI expects that Goal 1 development will, by this point, have overcome the speed bumps of incompatible performance capabilities and service models in switches, routers, local area networks, and workstations. In Goal 2, 100 sites (universities, federal research institutions, and other research partners) will be connected at speeds in excess of 100 times that of today's Internet.
As with I2, the vBNS would serve as a backbone for the network connecting NGI participants. To bring in other research partners and provide additional connectivity, the vBNS would interconnect to other federal research networks, including DREN (Defense), NREN (NASA), ESnet (DoE), and eventually SuperNet (DARPA's terabyte research network). The vBNS would also serve as a base for interconnecting to foreign high-performance networks, including the Canadian CA*net II, and others routed through the Science, Technology, and Research Transit Access Point (STAR-TAP) in Chicago.
Goal 2 of the NGI project also has the most planned collaboration with Internet2. NGI officials foresee the NSF supporting the GigaPoPs that would interconnect the I2 institutions and coordinating I2 and NGI interconnectivity to support interoperability and shared experimentation with NGI technologies and applications.
The Internet speed comes in the second, high-risk, high-security, test bed planned for the second phase of Goal 2. In this phase, 10 sites will be connected on a network employing ultra high speed switching and transmission technologies and end to end network connectivity at more than 1 gigabit per second, approximately 1000 times faster than today's Internet. This 1 gigabit per second network is intended to provide the research base for an eventual Terabyte per second network that would employ NGI conceived and developed technologies for harnessing such speed. A 1 Terabyte per second network additionally takes advantage of optical technology pioneered by DARPA.
The impossible becomes commonplace
The current Internet exploded once it was opened up for commercial use and privatisation. Both I2 and NGI include industry as part of their advisory and actual or envisioned working teams, a nod to the future when the technologies or applications developed within either initiative, be they Terabyte per second networks, quality of service tools, digital libraries, or remote collaboration environments, are ready for and applicable to the market place.
On today's Internet it sometimes takes many seconds to get one picture, while on tomorrow's Internet, you're going to get many pictures in one second. This means high definition video, such as that being used now for scientific visualisation. It's only a matter of time until industry seizes upon and spins this technology off into other worlds of interest to folks outside the sciences, like the entertainment industry.
Both initiatives have obstacles before them, I2 depends upon academic resources and investment, and NGI relies on Congressional budgets and endorsement.
Still, there is cautious hope within their respective communities that I2 and NGI can create not a new Internet, but a new Internet environment.
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