European versus American approaches to academic and research networking

Mannheim 20 June 1998 In the European countries, academic and research (A&R) network services have always been organized on a national basis, and were kept separate from the general purpose Internet. Former head of CERN's Computing and Networks division in Geneva, David O. Williams, regards this natural development as a major advantage in comparison with the traumatic privatization experience in the United States. At the Mannheim Supercomputer Seminar '98, he insisted on the careful sustaining of these valuable national research networks. The European problem is situated at the level of pan-European and transcontinental interconnectivity. We are beaten by the USA if it comes to extensive bandwidth capacities. American projects, such as Internet2 and the Next Generation Internet constitute more than promising initiatives to solve overall network congestion. The European answer consists in the upcoming QUANTUM or TEN-155 project. How should we actually deal with insufficient Internet performance?

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In the European countries, academic and research (A&R) network services have always been organized on a national basis, and were kept separate from the general purpose Internet. Former head of CERN's Computing and Networks division in Geneva, David O. Williams, regards this natural development as a major advantage in comparison with the traumatic privatization experience in the United States. At the Mannheim Supercomputer Seminar '98, he insisted on the careful sustaining of these valuable national research networks. The European problem is situated at the level of pan-European and transcontinental interconnectivity. We are beaten by the USA if it comes to extensive bandwidth capacities. American projects, such as Internet2 and the Next Generation Internet constitute more than promising initiatives to solve overall network congestion. The European answer consists in the upcoming QUANTUM or TEN-155 project. How should we actually deal with insufficient Internet performance?

Statistics show that packet loss during Internet traffic can be dramatic at some times and may exceed 10% when averaged over a whole month. This is due to the regularly occurring bottlenecks in the routers and the lack of sufficient bandwidth. Reason enough to focus on technology, economics and network organization in the future, according to Mr. Williams. In fact, we can distinguish three generations of Internet applications. The first one includes the tools we are used to, such as e-mail, Web-access, manually initiated file transfer, telnet and X-window. These services are not exactly what one would call interactive and adventurous. The second generation provides streaming audio and video for individuals, groupware for collaboration at a distance, automated data access and transfer, and shared file systems, requiring a great amount of bandwidth and reliability.

For the third generation, we really suffer from shortage of bandwidth, since this forthcoming Internet development includes collaboratories and advanced groupware, remote control rooms and virtual reality implementation at a distance. The various technologies needed to offer these services range from the fairly inexpensive optical fibre transmission and switching, over electronic signal processing at speeds exceeding 2.5 Gbps, and using multiple wavelengths, to appropriate routers and switches, which actually display no fundamental limitations anymore. We also evolve towards so-called differentiated services, which may cause the start of a new "religious war", as Mr. Williams points out.

We have to understand that in the United States, the funding of the federal agencies has a completely different source than the funding of the universities, which is done mostly on a private basis. In 1994/95, the universities were forced to look for connectivity from a commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP) since the National Science Foundation (NSF) net backbone was being commercialized. They selected MCI because this provider had been the supplier of the NSFnet backbone. Due to the growth of the general purpose Internet, the Internet soon was dealing with a major congestion. This meant the start for the setting up of Internet2, which will be established for production services but not for proper research networking.

Internet2 is managed by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID) consortium, consisting of a membership of some 200 American universities. The overall idea is to construct a network of GigaPops which is provoking severe competition between the different backbone providers. For Europe, it would likewise be useful to invest in EuroPops in order to improve the international connectivity. Since mid-April of this year, the three collaborating companies, Qwest, Cisco and Nortel, are building an alternative backbone in the USA, referred to as the Next Generation Internet (NGI). The federal agencies have taken the initiative to set up a three year programme, starting in 1999 and ending by 2002, which exclusively deals with research purposes. In the end, it should provide the means to organize first rate medical care in the States, among other services. As it is, Internet2 and NGI are separate initiatives which have nothing to do with each other.

In Europe, the TEN-34 project has been the leading connection for academic research networks. The European Commission has funded this initiative up to 40% while the remaining 60% came from the connected organizations. TEN-34 will be extended to the end of this year and will be succeeded by the QUANTUM or TEN-155 project. This network will have to operate at a speed of 155 Mbps. In fact, up till now, there has been more capacity between Europe and the United States than between the European countries themselves. TEN-155 will be operative for one year and after that, a programme within the Fifth Framework will take over. For the European A&R community, it is of vital importance to make politicians aware of the tremendous impact of Internet services and of the need to largely invest in them. In comparison with the United States, a lot of work remains to be done in this area. For more details on this item, we refer to the CERN Web site and to the ITIS'98 presentation of Mr. Hans-Peter Axmann on the same subject, covered by VMW in the June issue.


Leslie Versweyveld

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