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Internet2 turns 15. Has it delivered on its promise?

Low-profile, high-speed Internet2 serves educational and research needs, but does it help the real Internet?

By Julie Sartain, Network World
April 11, 2011 06:03 AM ET

Network World - With nearly $100 million in new funding, Internet2, the faster, better Internet reserved for research and education, has embarked on an upgrade that will boost backbone capacity to a staggering 8.8Tbps and expand services to hundreds of thousands of libraries, schools and medical centers.

SLIDESHOW: Internet2's Top 10 1sts and other achievements

TIMELINE: Internet2 milestones

Internet2 was created by 34 university research institutions in 1996, when the commercial and non-commercial branches of the Internet's evolutionary tree split off and went their separate ways. The mission of Internet2 was to provide reliable, dedicated bandwidth to support the ever-growing demands of the research and educational communities, and in doing so, to develop technologies that would advance the state of the 'commodity' Internet.

As Internet2 celebrates its 15th anniversary, there's widespread agreement that the non-profit organization has succeeded in the first part of its mission. Internet2 delivers hybrid optical and routed IP-based network services to more than 300 member organizations.

The Internet2 backbone is an Infinera-based optical network that delivers up to 400Gbps of wavelength capacity. The network is operated in partnership with Level 3 Communications. And Juniper routers are used to create multiple 10 Gigabit Ethernet links between nine core nodes around the country.

Downstream, Internet2 connects to 20 regional optical networks at speeds ranging from 10G to 30Gbps. These regional networks ultimately deliver broadband connectivity to more than 66,000 anchor sites, such as museums, performing arts centers, libraries, K-12 schools and medical centers.

Internet2 is also the link between the U.S. and the global research community. For example, U.S. scientists involved in the Large Hadron Collider particle physics research in Europe could not participate without Internet2.

"Currently, the largest users of the network are scientific, and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) scientists' usage dwarfs most of the other disciplines," says Jason Zurawski, network software engineer at Internet2.

Each of the LHC facilities worldwide has multiple petabytes of storage and thousands of computing cores to process and analyze the data, which must be distributed via networks such as Internet2 for real-time collaboration and iterative processing of datasets that can reach 100TB, he adds.

Internet2 has a long list of other achievements and accomplishments. As Rodney Wilson, senior director of external research at Ciena, points out, "Internet2 creates temporary networking test beds, facilitates research on next-generation networking concerns, and has contributed to a number of breakthroughs and world firsts, such as the first 100 Gigabit Ethernet research network and the first uncompressed high-definition videoconference using dynamic circuit networks."

Wilson adds that Internet2 is more than just the network infrastructure. It provides its members with tools for network research, middleware used for provisioning network services, network performance, and security. Several of these tools like Shibboleth (identity and access management), perfSONAR (network performance measurement), and OSCARS (network provisioning) have been adopted by researchers worldwide and have helped address some of the most significant global advanced networking concerns and issues.

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