Upgrade Quadruples the Speed of Internet2's Network
By VINCENT KIERNAN
From the issue dated February 27, 2004
Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com/weekly/v50/i25/25a03002.htm
The Internet2 project this month completed an upgrade to its Abilene high-speed computer network that will enable researchers on member campuses to transmit data more than 15,000 times as fast as they could using a typical dial-up modem.
The improvements, which began in 2001, quadruple Abilene's capacity to move data, to 10 billion bits of information per second.
That might sound like all the capacity that a researcher could ever need, but scholars' demand for bandwidth has risen sharply in the past three years and is likely to continue to grow, said Steve Corbató, director of backbone network infrastructure for Internet2.
For example, he said, high-energy physicists last year used Abilene to move data at the rate of seven billion bits each second between the CERN particle-physics laboratory, in Switzerland, and the California Institute of Technology.
With the upgrade, Mr. Corbató said, "we have headroom for the research community to do interesting things."
Abilene consists of 11 connection points across the United States that are linked by fiber-optic lines. (A map of Abilene, showing how much of its capacity is being used at any given moment, is available at http://loadrunner.uits.iu.edu/weathermaps/abilene.) Each of the 206 Internet2 institutions links to Abilene through the nearest connection point.
Mr. Corbató declined to specify how much the upgrade cost, saying the figure was proprietary. He did note that the annual budget for Abilene, including the cost of the upgrade, is about $15-million. In an announcement, Internet2 officials said that Indiana University, Juniper Networks, and Qwest Communications provided the equipment and services for the upgrade.
To make the improvements, computer servers at the network's connection points were replaced with newer models that can handle data faster. In addition, Abilene can now take advantage of the newest version of the Internet Protocol, which is used to package and transmit information. The new version, known as IPv6, is expected to gain wide acceptance in the future, not least because it will expand the number of available Internet addresses.
The upgrade also included a switch to a technique called dense wave-division multiplexing, which uses thousands of wavelengths of light to transmit separate streams of data through a single fiber-optic line at the same time. The technology replaced older methods for transporting data, Mr. Corbató said.
Studying Net Traffic
Other new network features will make Abilene more useful as the subject of research, because the upgraded servers will collect reams of detailed data on the network's operations.
Currently, scholars have little opportunity to study the workings of most of the Internet's backbones, or high-capacity lines, because they are operated by companies that regard performance data as trade secrets, said Mark E. Crovella, an associate professor of computer science at Boston University.
So researchers are largely in the dark about such phenomena as how usage is distributed across points on a network and how traffic patterns change throughout a typical day, he said. Nor can researchers attempt to diagnose network problems, like cyberattacks, from their symptoms, he said.
"You wouldn't have any way to detect that if you don't know the normal behavior of your network," Mr. Crovella said. Research using the Abilene data may begin to fill in some of the blanks, he said.
Internet2 now will turn its attention to Abilene's next upgrade, which Mr. Corbató said is likely to start in 2006. That set of improvements may include revisions in the network's architecture as well as new facilities for offering high-speed links tailored to individual research projects.
It is unclear whether the next upgrade will include another quadrupling in capacity. The necessary equipment may not be available by then, Mr. Corbató said, because a slump in the telecommunications industry has slowed the rate of innovation by its companies.