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Internet2 becoming a big net on campus

Building a faster, safer 'Net.

By , Network World
May 12, 2003 12:09 AM ET

Network World - Its purpose is not to drive revenue growth, but to find better ways of getting the most out of a very fast IP backbone.

As such, the concept of Internet2 is not new, but the research conducted over its network is far from commonplace.

About 200 universities participate in the Internet2 project, which includes a national backbone called Abilene that's being upgraded to support 10G bit/sec wavelengths.

In addition to beefing up its exclusive network for higher education, Internet2 is working on several projects that could prove useful to public Internet users and to ISPs that support that network, while focused on the higher education community.

The group is expanding network performance monitoring, operating an information-sharing center that's crucial to Abilene's security and stability, and experimenting with Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) to support VPNs. These are just a few of Internet2's projects, which include developments in software, middleware and network engineering.

All this research and experimentation takes place while the group upgrades its network to 10G.

No 'glut' here

"We view excess bandwidth as a feature of the network, not a waste," says Steve Corbato, director of backbone network infrastructure for Internet2. "We want to stay ahead of demand."

While many service providers involved with the commercial Internet are dealing with what analysts call a "bandwidth glut," the Internet2 members want higher speeds to support bandwidth-intensive application development such as real-time, high-definition television.

The group is deploying Juniper T640 routers throughout the 11 core network nodes that make up the Abilene network. Qwest is supplying additional wavelengths across the U.S. to support the higher speeds. While the majority of the routers are deployed, the whole network upgrade will not be completed until this summer, Corbato says.

Supporting high-bandwidth applications was a motivating factor to upgrade Abilene, but the groups also are looking to migrate to IPv6, he says.

"We wanted to make sure Abilene, as the backbone for U.S. research universities, wasn't an impediment in supporting ... native IPv6," he says. Internet2 has been experimenting and deploying IPv6 nearly since network construction got underway in 1997. IPv6 exponentially increases the number of IP addresses a network could support.

Internet2 also is experimenting with larger packet sizes as a way of improving network performance. Large packets improve performance when transmitting "gigabit-per-second flows" because the large packets keep pertinent data together as it travels over the network, Corbato says. The typical IP packet is 15 bytes. A large packet is 9000 bytes, he says.

The network upgrades also have led to the expansion of network performance monitoring, Corbato says.

"We have quadrupled the number of [metrics] we monitor on Abilene," he says.

One of the new metrics is a network validation test.

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