Project to Test Key Premise of Future High-Speed Network

December 11. 1998

Reprinted from The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 11, 1998 (Vol. XLV, Number 16)

Project to Test Key Premise of Future High-Speed Network
by Kelly McCollum

The Internet 2 consortium has begun a key project to help researchers collaborate across multiple high-speed networks and use advanced applications such as virtual reality and videoconferencing.

The project, announced last week at a meeting at Northwestern University, is called QBone, which is short for "quality-of-service backbone" ( Participants in the project -- an assortment of universities and network organizations -- gathered at Northwestern to discuss the details of their work on the project.

Technology is Crucial

The group's goal is to develop "quality of service" technology, which will allow networks to favor certain types of traffic over others. Such differentiation is crucial to many of the advanced applications that have been promised for such high-speed networks as the Internet 2 project's Abilene and the National Science Foundation's very high-performance Backbone Network Service, or vBNS.

Video and voice communication, remote operation of scientific instruments, and other research applications require steady network connections that are impossible to guarantee on the congested Internet, where all kinds of information are treated equally. Quality-of-service technology will let network administrators assign a high priority to some information, giving it a clear path through the network while lower-priority traffic waits its turn.

Such capabilities already exist on some networks, but not all networks use the same protocols, so the priority assignments cannot be assured. QBone will focus on finding ways to let quality-of-service distinctions work across different networks, says Greg Wood, a spokesman for Internet 2.

"It's very easy for a single network to implement some policy or protocol about quality of service," he says. "Getting more than one network to do it is very difficult because you have to have agreements about how the protocols or standards work across each other."

Testing New Protocols

Participants in the project will use connections among their research networks to develop and test quality-of-service protocols. While the protocols are being developed, says Mr. Wood, researchers will be able to use them to collaborate with colleagues on other networks.

The protocols are a prime example of the type of experimental technology that researchers will be able to try out on the Abilene network, which is meant to help develop new Internet technologies as well as to enable high-speed scientific work.

According to Mr. Wood, network administrators plan to begin testing quality-of-service capabilities on Abilene when it becomes operational, in January. Other networks involved in QBone, such as vBNS and the New York State Education and Research Network, will also begin testing their internetwork capabilities early next year, he says.

Academic participants in the project include Carnegie Mellon University, Texas A&M University, and the Universities of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

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