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Internet2 turns 15. Has it delivered on its promise?

Julie Sartain, Network World | June 13, 2011
With nearly $100 million in new funding, Internet2, the faster, better Internet reserved for research and education, has embarked on an upgrade that will boost backbone capacity to a staggering 8.8Tbps and expand services to hundreds of thousands of libraries, schools and medical centers.

In one case, students in the Osseo and Cambridge-Isanti, Minn., High Schools watched heart surgery live along with a class from Rhode Island. The students were briefed by the surgeon who narrated the process as students watched via a head-cam attached to the surgeon. Davenport adds, "They were engaged for the entire two hours of the surgery and left with new information and perceptions about careers in the medical field."

Promises, promises

But has Internet2 delivered on its promise to the commercial Internet? "It depends on what one thinks was Internet2's promise," says Scott Bradner, technology security officer at Harvard University. "It has provided very good connectivity for higher education research, but it has not resulted in a lot of useful network research. A number of the original network-related research projects made good progress resulting in a rather large number of research papers and quite a few advanced degrees. But some of the research was overtaken by events."

He points out that QoS research was an early Internet2 effort but it turned out that advances in the speed of the Internet rendered QoS technologies that were being worked on unnecessary. "That said, a lot of technical and application research is still going on," Bradner adds.

Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., comes at the question from a different perspective. "In my view, Internet2 had two missions: a technical one and a market one. The technical objective was to explore the boundaries of Internet technology, particularly for higher speeds and more types of services (including circuit-mode connections), and the business objective was to prepare the Internet for the broadband age. I think it met the former objectives, but failed in the latter."

According to Nolle, Internet2 is relevant as a technology test-bed, but a non-profit doesn't operate the same way as a commercial enterprise and thus can't serve as a model for one. Therefore, it's been unable to contribute, in any meaningful sense, to the non-technical issues, such as public policy, or business models of the service providers, he argues.

"The bottom line," Nolle says, "is Internet2 a science project? If it doesn't have any relevance to the issues of the [commercial] Internet as it is now, then what good is it really going to do? My view is that the success or failure of any publicly-funded project is whether it benefits the public, and I suspect that most everyone in the general population would say that if Internet2 isn't going to fix problems with the [commercial] Internet, it's not helping them."


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