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Volume 3, Number 5
May, 1998

Tales of the Geek Lord

by Pelican Smith

Cynicism runs deep in the computer field. Pretty Amazing New Stuff (PANS) rolls in faster than you can keep track of. Last years killer app is this years outdated piece of junk.

That's why I didn't jump for joy when I heard Vice-President Gore announcing "Internet2" on CNN. The Clinton administration has already planted a flag in just about every recent advancement, from cancer research, to the human genome project, to the growth of the Internet. It sounded like another round with the Spin Doctors.

But Internet2, nicknamed Abilene, really will be as big a boon to mankind as they claim. And the US Government really does play a major part in it's development. Namely, they are providing a sweet $50 million in research funds.

Abilene will be seperate from the regular Internet for many reasons. The Internet is owned by too many different, often competing corporations for a joint effort. The Internet also starts out with many problems which have inherently dampened research efforts, such as congestion, unreliable protocols, and a lack of security. Then there is the very real fact that nobody is now in a good position to understand the workings of the entire Internet. It's already too large, and growing too quickly.

Abilene will run between some 120 different sites, most of which will be universities which have sworn to devote sufficient resources to the project. Other participants will be research oriented organizations like NASA and the Department of Energy. Internet2 will be built on colleges simply because they have the brainpower, and they have the demand to put that brainpower to use. True, even more brainpower could be found in the dark cubbyholes of your networking corporations, but competition keeps them from building networks between themselves.

The networking corporations will be present (namely Cisco, 3Com and Qwest Communications), but they will be free to operate with a focus more on development, and less on profits.

What does this mean for us? Well, the researchers will start out by tackling some of the Internet's current, known problems. Speed will be dramatically improved on Internet2, with the establishment of GigaPoPs (Gigabit per second Points of Presense) at regional locations. New protocols, such as IPv6, will be fully tested on Internet2, before being released onto the Internet. Also, prioritization of traffic will be built in to the networking protocols. This will allow crucial data, such as X-Rays of a patient in critical condition, to jump to the head of any queue otherwise filled with routine e-mail and web traffic.

Mostly, though, there will be cooperation on this giant known as Abilene. Cooperation between the federal government, big corporations, and our nation's universities. Internet2 may well be the only place where these groups will be able to work together.

Will Internet2 replace the regular Internet? Probably not. Not if everyone involved keeps their wits and the money keeps coming. Internet2 is a testbed, and a testbed can be a remarkable thing - A place to be creative without worrying about 100 percent uptime.

And let's remember why the concept is important. This is more than just plugging toasters into the network. Heck, this is even more than pushing X-Rays to doctors faster. This is about commerce. This is about keeping the technological edge in America. This is more profound than any earlier technological advance - railroad, television, radio, the automobile, you name it.

Why? Because their is a whole universe of knowledge out there. Now we are finally finding a way to put it all on the shoulder of every student entering kindergarten for the first time.
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