Internet2 is refocusing on providing a high-capacity network for pushing the boundaries of science and technology, which could help to foster the next hot Internet application, an executive said at the organization's summer meeting.
The network was launched in 1996 as a supercharged infrastructure for collaboration among academic and government researchers, but in the last decade its focus shifted toward lowering the cost of connecting its member institutions, said Eric Boyd, Internet2's deputy technology officer for network services. The organization is now returning to its roots through a three-pronged initiative, with the help of about US$100 million in recent funding. It is holding a joint conference with the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), another research network operator, at Stanford University this week.
For sheer horsepower, Internet2 is deploying a 100Gbps (bit-per-second) optical backbone for connecting regional networks at higher speed, which is nearly finished. It's also starting to work with cutting-edge software-defined networking (SDN) technology to create a testbed for experimentation in networking itself, and looking at ways to carve out specialized virtual networks for science from within universities, Boyd said.
Universities were pioneers on the original Internet, which for many years primarily linked research institutions and government agencies. But today, all university students use the Internet and campus networks are designed largely for the same online activities everyday consumers use, such as Web browsing, social networking and mobile apps, Boyd said.
That makes Internet2 crucial once again, as a platform for exploring the applications of the future, he said. Just as Facebook, the Web browser, and other familiar killer apps were conceived on powerful, advanced academic networks, the next big Internet application could come out of a university, he said.
"If you try to measure the impact of academia's effects on the U.S. and world economy, it happens to a greater degree when there's an environment where they can do radical stuff, and some of it sticks to the wall," Boyd said.
Exploring those new frontiers requires speed, dedicated resources and isolation between daily applications and experiments, Boyd said. "The reason we exist is because we're doing things different from what the commodity service providers are doing."
SDN, including the emerging OpenFlow standard, will be a key underlying technology to power both scientific and network advances, according to Boyd. SDN separates the control of networks from the equipment that moves that traffic around. Internet2 devoted a day at its meeting to a discussion of the emerging technology, which Internet2 participants and other presenters said could open up many more possibilities for changing what networks can do. It lets engineers program networks in an open-ended way rather than just configuring dedicated network devices, they said.
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