Overview of Internet2

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Paving the way for a new, high-speed, widely-available internet, Internet2 is a consortium initiated by the University Cooperation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID) in October, 1996. Largely a program designed to enable and encourage large-scale collaboration between academic institutions, corporations, and the government, its aim is to develop advanced Internet technology and applications for research and educational purposes now, eventually extending to the commercial sector. The project is currently led by 202 U.S. universities that collaborate with other similar industrial and federal initiatives such as the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, and with initiatives from other countries.

Figure 1: diagram of Internet2's structure

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ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency) was developed by the Department of Defence. Initially, it consisted on four universities: Stanford Research Institute, UC Los Angeles, UC Santa Barbara and University of Utah.


The Department of Defense wanted help from universities as research partners so it granted them access to ARPAnet. In order to have a standard protocol between the different regional computer networks, TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol) was invented. This allowed ARPAnet to be widely accessible. APRAnet became known as the Internet.


NSF (National Science Foundation) started developing a high-speed network known as NSFnet in order to connect their supercomputer centers.


NSFnet was opened to the public, and gained importance as a major backbone of the mainstream Internet. It did so by signing a cooperative agreement with Merit Network to manage the NSFNET backbone.

Apr 1995

NSFnet was decommissioned from the mainstream Internet after a lengthy process of replacing its backbone functions with other commercial backbones. NSFnet now reverts back to being a high-speed research network under a 5-year agreement which NSF signs with MCI World Com. NSF would pay MCI $10 million annually to develop and manage this network backbone, which was renamed vBNS (very-high-performance Backbone Network Service).

Oct 1996

As the Internet becomes more congested, many universities realize a need for their own high-speed network that provided higher priority and responsiveness to education and research. The Internet2 project starts and preparations to build the new network and its applications begin.

President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced their commitment to the Next Generation Internet (NGI) Initiative, based upon strong research and development programs across Federal agencies. They pledged to provide funding for R&D and research networks to develop the NGI with $100 million annually for 3 years.

Oct 1997

UCAID (University Cooperation for Advanced Internet Development) was formed to direct the growth of Internet2.

Apr 1998

Vice President Al Gore announces the Abilene project. Abilene is named after a railway constructed in Abilene, Kansas in the 1860s.

Sep 1998

Middleware Initiative announced.

Feb 1999

Construction of Abilene network commences.

Dec 1999

Abilene network completed, with 2.5 gigabits per second capabilities.

Apr 2000

NSF grants MCI a 3-year extension to vBNS project on a no cost (to NSF) basis.

Nov 2001

Dutch SURFnet and Internet2's Abilene connect via Gigabit Ethernet.

Feb 2002

Global Terabit Research Network (GTRN), an international partnership to establish a true world-wide next generation Internet to interconnect national and multinational high speed research and education networks, is formed.

Aug 2002

Internet2 backbone network deploys the new Internet protocol, IPv6, nationwide.

Sep 2002

The NSF announced its first grants under the new $90 million Information Technology Research (ITR) initiative, of which 72 institutions from the Internet2 group was given funding to connect to vBNS.

Feb 2003

New Internet2 Land Speed Record using IPv4: 2.38 gigabits/sec from Sunnyvale, CA to Geneva, Switzerland.

Jun 2003

New Internet2 Land Speed Record using IPv6: 938 megabits/sec from Geneva, Switzerland to Chicago.

End of 2003

Network upgrades of Abilene to 10 gigabits per second and native IPv6 capabilities are expected to be completed.

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Such a complex organization with as many collaborators as Internet2 demands clearly defined subgroups that work towards specific, well-established goals. At the heart of the organization are many Working Groups, committees of Internet2 member institutions and partners in charge of specific development activities. Internet2 has established five general focus areas that, building on the work of the Working Groups, create the backbone of the organization: Initiatives, Engineering, Applications, Middleware, and Networking.

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Laying the Groundwork:

In order to develop high-speed, high-fidelity connections, Internet2 has concentrated its efforts in the areas of Networking, Middleware, and Engineering.
The plan to build an advanced network infrastructure began in April, 1998, with the construction of the Abilene network, a high performance optic fiber cross-country backbone which links regional high-speed networks together. The Abilene network compliments the existing vBNS network, the high -performance backbone network structure developed by NSF and MCI and sponsored by the NGI initiative. Currently, authorized users can gain access to these two high performance networks through the local network provider, though traffic on these information superhighways is supervised to prevent congestion and security breeches.

Middleware is the layer of software that mediates the connection between the network infrastructure and the applications which use it. It acts as a standard for various services such as security and directories, thus preventing cross-platform compatibility issues and ensuring a higher level of reliability.

click here to read more about middleware.

Engineering refers to the various projects which study the procedures and protocols that make networking more efficient. Working groups looking into IPv6 (a new internet protocol), QoS (Quality of Service) guarantees, multicasting and other issues have been established to date.
While there are currently no intentions to integrate the Abilene and vBNS networks with the mainstream Internet, these networks act as a platform on which new age Internet applications and protocols are being developed and tested. It ensures that such developments trickle down to the Internet in the smoothest possible manner.

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Maximizing Utility:

With the groundwork laid out, it became possible to start using the new technology to benefit society. The two areas of Internet2 (that work with the aforementioned three technical areas) that focus on practical uses for the cutting edge technology are Initiatives, geared towards promoting collaborations in a particular field, and Applications, actual implementations of Internet2 networks for use in collaborative research, learning, and teaching. Working groups within the umbrella of each Initiative provide the collaborative, focused environment necessary to make strides in its respective area of study.

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Current Initiatives
  • End-to-End Performance Initiative:
    This initiative seeks to ensure reliable and consistent networking for all users of Internet2 technology; it will be instrumental in improving performance problem detection and resolution.

  • Arts and Humanities Initiative:
    Within the arts and humanities, this initiative promotes and enables enhanced collaboration between field experts, regardless of location.

  • Digital Video Initiative:
    This will create a central hub for those working in digital videoˇa means to work on joint projects, to disseminate and share information, and to promote work in the field.

  • Distributed Storage Initiative:
    The Distributed Storage Initiative will both provide a hosting platform for content and services related to Internet2 and seek to optimize the system for improved latency and reduced bandwidth consumption.

  • Fiberco (TM) Initiative:
    Dark fiber (unused fiber-optic cable) is the focus of this initiative, as it works to provide regional optical networks and regulate prices.

  • Health Sciences Initiative:
    This initiative focuses resources on the medical applications of Internet2 technology, aiming to revolutionize healthcare by allowing collaboration between students, faculty, researchers, and clinicians in the medical field. Ideally, it will benefit clinical practice, medical/biological research, education, and health awareness.
    Its current goals are: to create Internet2-optimized applications previously hampered by insufficient networking capabilities, to take advantage of the network to collaborate with professionals worldwide, and to serve as an information hub for the health science community. read more about work being done under the Health Sciences Initiative

  • Internet2 Commons:
    This acts as the backbone for the entire Internet2 organization and provides a framework for a large-scale collaborative environment that was impossible given the previous Internet's limitations.

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Internet2 does not seek to replace the current internet; rather, it seeks to improve it and gradually extend the technology to a non-developmental environment. Using the technologies developed by collaborations among advanced users in government, academia, and industry, the developments made will eventually trickle down to the commercial sector, and advanced internet technology will be widely available. For the time being, however, the technology will be kept to the development team, just as the first-generation internet was at its inception.

Because Internet2 spans many different areas of interest (art, science, and engineering, for example), it's hard to define one single goal. That said, broad foci for the project include preservation of the United States as the leader in networking technology, dissemination of new information to as many computer users as possible, and general improvement of internet technology for the public.