cr> re3: evolution of net infrastructure


Richard Moore

Date: 27 Jan 96
From: John Whiting <•••@••.•••>
Subject: cr> re2: evolution of net infrastructure

rkm wrote:
>If there was worry about a "network which might be taken over and used against
>them" during occupation, then wouldn't the primary concern be to deal with
>TV and radio broadcast facilties?

My immediate reponse is, yes, you're right. I read your comment
as a corrective footnote rather than a blanket refutation.


[ ... as was intended ... -rkm ]

Date: Mon, 29 Jan 1996
Sender: John Whiting <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Internet backbone charges (clipping)

---------- Forwarded Message ----------

From:   Larry or Lynn Tunstall, INTERNET:•••@••.•••
TO:     John Whiting, 100707,731
        Les Radke, INTERNET:•••@••.•••
DATE:   29/01/96 17:14

RE:     Internet backbone charges (clipping)



I THOUGHT it would be a simple matter when, two weeks ago, I started
looking for a map of the Internet. I just wanted a diagram that showed
the main pathways of the Net, the fiber-optic cables that crisscross the
country carrying World Wide Web pages from San Francisco to Dallas and
electronic mail from Los Angeles to New York. I thought that if I knew
what the Net looked like, I might be able to determine if we are about
to run out of network capacity, as some pundits have predicted recently.

I still haven't found a map. In fact, I no longer think one exists. It
turns out that the companies that operate the main arteries of the
Internet consider detailed information about their piece of the network
to be proprietary. It's a strange situation, almost as if states refused
to disclose details about how many highways they have and where they are
located because it was considered competitive information.

Nonetheless, from talking to the engineers who are building and
maintaining the Internet, I've been able to piece together, if not a map
of the Net, at least an outline of its shape. Enough to determine that
the roads that make up the Internet are almost running at full capacity
and traffic jams are becoming increasingly frequent. And that, although
this condition will exist only until the infrastructure is improved, the
tremendous growth in Internet traffic is prompting fundamental changes
in the underlying economics of the network.

Increasingly, we're going to hear about ''settlements,'' whereby small
Internet providers pay larger ones in order to traverse their networks.
This may be the death knell for many of them. To understand why, you
need to understand the Internet's structure. Which brings us back to the
missing map.


A few years ago, a map of the Net would have been easy to draw. The
Internet's backbone -- the main pipes that carry data across the country
-- was owned and operated by the National Science Foundation, a federal
government agency. This backbone, capable of carrying 45 megabits per
second, connected a few dozen important scientific sites like the San
Diego Supercomputing Center, UC-Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology.

Also connected to the backbone were regional access providers like
CERFNet in Southern California and NEARNet on the East Coast. These
regional networks provided Internet service to thousands of smaller
sites and simply fed data that needed to go across the country to the
NSF backbone.

But in April 1995, the NSF, having decided to turn the Internet business
over to the private sector, turned off its backbone, and suddenly
mapping the network became a much murkier business. Instead of one
backbone, there are now almost a dozen, and instead of a few regional
providers, there are now a few thousand small-time Internet providers.


The two largest backbones are operated by SprintLink and InternetMCI,
but backbones run by companies such as AlterNet (which is partnered with
Microsoft) and Advanced Network & Services (which was bought by America
Online in 1994) are becoming increasingly important. All of these
backbones are made up of what are known as DS-3 lines, capable of
handling data at a speed of 45 megabits per second.

But nobody knows the total number of DS-3 lines being used to carry
Internet traffic, or exactly what cities they run between, which makes
it hard to say how much traffic the Internet can really support. And an
even more important implication of having multiple backbones comes from
the necessary interconnections. After all, if my computer is connected
to SprintLink, and Microsoft is connected to AlterNet, how can we send
messages back and forth?

The answer lies in NAPs, or Network Access Points. These are locations
where the big Internet providers get together and exchange data. For
example, Pacific Bell operates an NAP in Oakland that some 20 Internet
backbones and major service providers connect to. In the scenario above,
my message to Microsoft would be sent via our connection to SprintLink
from San Francisco to Oakland. Then, at the PacBell Network Access
Point, it would be switched onto AlterNet's network and carried up to


This works fine if everyone is exchanging equal amounts of data. But in
reality, the smaller players end up dumping most of their traffic onto
the big networks, while the big players end up handling most of their
own traffic. Not surprisingly, the big guys see this as unfair.

They have ignored the matter up to now because, as one Sprint engineer
put it, ''the traffic volumes were so small it just looked like a
rounding error.'' But as volumes swell, and as network capacity grows
tighter, it seems very likely that a system of payments will be
instituted, whereby small providers have to pay for the privilege of
exchanging data. That may sound reasonable, but expect to hear screams
of outrage. The Internet provider business carries very low margins, and
the introduction of settlements is likely to drive some of the smaller
fish right out of the pond.

Nonetheless, as Bob Collet, president of the Commercial Internet
Exchange, points out, ''the telephone system has relied on a system of
settlements for years. Sure, Internet folks are used to getting things
for free, but that's just not going to last.''

Pushpendra Mohta, executive director of CERFNet, agrees. ''We're large
enough that we don't need to pay settlements, but you will probably
start seeing smaller regional providers being asked to pay settlements
this year.''

This may very well be the most important outcome of the approaching
Internet capacity crunch. I don't believe that the Web will collapse
from lack of bandwidth. By next year, companies like Cisco Systems and
Ipsilon Networks will have developed the equipment necessary to run
Internet backbones at speeds as high as 622 megabits per second. But
until then, watch out for an increasing number of toll roads.

Steve G. Steinberg (•••@••.•••) is an editor at Wired magazine.


Transmitted:  96-01-29 05:01:17 ES


 Posted by Richard K. Moore (•••@••.•••) Wexford, Ireland
 Materials may be reposted in their entirety for non-commercial use.