Network engineers have taken the latest version of the ultra-fast Internet2 for a series of test drives and confirmed that the “Abilene” backbone as it’s called is just what they ordered.

Fast, and with plenty of capacity. As in 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps). The information superhighway has added an even faster passing lane. When completed later this year, the upgrade will quadruple the speed and capacity of the network that currently links more than 225 universities.

How fast is 10 Gbps? “More than 15,000 times faster than a typical home broadband connection,” said John Moore, technical director at the North Carolina Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center at NC State.

Moore and his team at the North Carolina Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center at NC State along with Juniper Networks, Spirent Communications and Qwest Communications, decided to “test the limits” of the upgraded network. And he was pleased with the results.

“We saw a unique opportunity to test the limits of both the routers and circuits during the upgrade,” Moore explained. The tests, which ran across the country, loaded the network with traffic, and “the end-to-end results were very impressive.”

Steve Corbató, director of backbone network infrastructure for Internet2, concurred. In a statement, he said: “Thanks to the combined effort of our Abilene partners, the path to this milestone in the upgrade process has been extremely smooth. We expect Abilene will continue to be a catalyst for innovation, providing the research and education community a unique, large-scale leading-edge network environment.”

The network upgrades include high-performance T-640 routers from Juniper and OC-192 fiber circuits from Qwest. (OC-192 is nearly four times as fast as OC-48 to get to 10 gigabit capacity, and eight times as fast as OC-24. OC refers to Optical Carrier. Most business high-speed connections are T-1, or 1.536 Mbps)

Utilizing performance testing equipment from Spirent, the NC-ITEC engineers ran the tests on Internet2’s high-capacity backbone for two reasons, according to Moore:

“Prove that we could support large bandwidth flows from coast-to-coast with the new routers and circuits.

“Stress test the network to find any misconfigurations or bugs before we introduced a large amount of normal user traffic.”

For research and education only

Internet2 is separated from the public Internet and is for use by researchers and educational institutions only. Over the past several years, MCNC and other institutions in North Carolina have been involved deeply in Internet2 design and deployment.

“The research and education community was a major player in the development of the original Internet,” Moore explained. “As the Internet has grown, its purpose has changed from a research network into a critical production infrastructure. Internet2 resurrects the role of research and education as the community where both network and high performance application experimentation can flourish without impeding the commercial nature of today’s Internet.”

The upgrades better position Internet2 to support growing demands by individual users and for those who want access to high-performance computing, such as the Supercomputing Center at MCNC, and the rapidly emerging Grid technology — running complex calculations and applications on multiple computers simultaneously.

“High performance computing and Grid researchers are major players in the Internet2 community,” Moore said.

Asked if the upgraded Internet2 is better equipped to handle more users and more applications, such as multimedia, Moore said the “core” has the muscle to do so.

“It will actually support both,” he explained. “Core networks such as Abilene are the aggregation point for large numbers of users and the larger the pipe, the more users can be supported.

“The core can also provide large amounts of bandwidth for use by a single application if required, as long as the connection to the core is big enough. In the Research and Education community, most organizations attaching to Abilene have fairly high bandwidth connections.

“In fact, Abilene allows users to connect to at the speed of the backbone if they so choose. NCNI (North Carolina Networking Initiative), which provides the connection to Internet2 for the North Carolina research and education community, connects at 2.4 Gbps.”

Neil Anderson, senior director of Spirent’s test programs, said in a statement that the testing “validates the ability of the upgraded backbone to support high-bandwidth applications being developed by the Internet2 community.”

At Qwest, Debbie Montano, director of advanced Internet initiatives, praised the results as well. “The stability and performance of the circuits is key to supporting advanced applications for the Internet2 community,” she said.

Kevin Dillon, director of portfolio marketing at Juniper, added that the tests “demonstrate the ability of the T640 platform to support the most demanding networks and Juniper Networks’ commitment to the development of Ipv6.”

Testing new protocols

As Dillon noted, the testing also included use of the new Ipv6 protocols as well as the existing Ipv4 — the addressing scheme and other applications that control Internet routing. As the number of users of the Internet has exploded over the past decade, coming up with enough “addresses” has been a challenge.

“IPv6 has a much larger address space than IPv4. This is important in certain geographies where the rate of growth of Internet service is very high, new applications such as Internet-enabled PDAs and cell phones are being introduced, and where large blocks of IPv4 addresses are hard to come by,” Moore said. “IPv6 is huge in China and much of Asia.

“IPv6 has also been engineered from the beginning to include features like security and auto-configuration based on the lessons learned from the Internet communities experience with IPv4.”

One test ran for five hours and included both Ipv4 and Ipv6 traffic. Another test for only Ipv6 traffic lasted an hour.

Moore has been running NC-ITEC since August of 2000 and has 18 years of experience working with networks. NC-ITEC is part of the Centaur Lab, which provides network testing services for Internet2 as well as state research and education efforts as part of NCNI.

Abilene takes its name from a railhead established in Abilene, Kansas during the 1860´s, an ambitious project that helped further exploration and development of the West.

Cisco and Nortel also are partners in the project.