Interim NREN - Network Information Services

Report of a Workshop and Interviews

May 1991

Executive Summary

In cooperation with the Internet community, the agencies that are part of the Federal Networking Council (FNC) are developing an open and competitive solicitation for Network Information Center (NIC) services to include Internet Registration  Services, Directory Services, and Information Services.  These NIC services will provide support for the domestic portion of the Internet and its component NICs.  The services are intended  to continue as the Internet evolves to the Interim NREN.  The program for the NREN was announced on February 4, 1991 by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and is described in the brochure, "Grand Challenges: High Performance Computing and Communications."

The development of a solicitation for NIC services is occurring under unusual time pressure because of the nearly simultaneous expiration of contracts for NIC services at the NSFNET Network Support Center (NNSC), (provided by Bolt Beranek and Newman), and for NIC services for the Defense Data Network (DDN) and related Internet NIC services (provided by SRI International).  The new NIC arrangements must be completed and services provided not later than January 1, 1992.

Because of the rapid evolution of the Internet during the past several years, and the prospective high rate of change associated with the NREN program, which calls for operational gigabit level network services by 1996, the National Science Foundation Division of Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure (DNCRI) is conducting an intensive review of requirements for NIC services in the Interim NREN
environment, which is nominally defined as 1992-1996.  EDUCOM provided assistance to the review in the form of interviews and of a workshop conducted in April, 1991.  This report is divided into two main parts, the first dealing with the workshop and containing the views of individuals currently associated in some capacity with the provision of NIC services, and the second dealing with the views of end users of the Internet as obtained from telephone interviews.

Workshop Summary

The workshop sessions, conducted on April 23 and 24, 1991, were designed to review both breadth and depth of Interim NREN NIC services, as well as consideration of the extent to which NIC services should be designed using a distributed model.

The chief conclusions of the workshop, described in detail in section III, were:

---NIC services for the Interim NREN should be provided to the maximum extent possible using a distributed model, with only those core activities which are common and essential to proper functioning of the network being provided centrally.  The primary role of the new NIC is to be a "NIC for NIC's" on the Interim NREN.

---In addition to its primary NIC for NIC's role, the new NIC must serve as both a "NIC of first resort," and a "NIC of last resort."  By this is meant that the new NIC must ensure that service support for the end user is available under under worst case conditions.  On one extreme, a new user with
no knowledge whatsoever of the NREN must be able to begin his or her learning about the network at the new NIC.  On the other extreme, the end user who has encountered total frustration in accessing NIC service to solve a problem must be able to contact the new NIC and obtain help.  In general,  the new NIC should be responsible for understanding and advocating the needs of end users of the network.

---As the NREN evolves, it will be important to exercise leadership in improving overall network information services and performance, assisting other NIC's in adapting to changes in the network, and in representing the NREN NIC activities to other networks, both national and international.  By virtue of the responsibilities and knowledge involved with carrying out the above duties, the staff of the new NIC will be in a position to play this leadership role effectively and should be tasked to do so.

---The rapid growth of the Internet has left today's NIC's with inadequate software and hardware tools needed to carry out their responsibilities.  The new NREN environment will accentuate this problem.  Substantial development resources must be provided over the next several years to remedy this problem.  It was the view of the workshop participants that as a general rule, such development should be funded through the solicitation process separate from the cooperative agreement which funds the new NIC.

---A variety of important transition issues currently affect the Internet, including both contract expirations such as those for the BBN and SRI NIC's; as well as those associated with protocol standardization, such as the integration of the Domain Name System into the X.500 Directory system architecture of OSI.  Special steps need to be taken by NSF in developing the solicitation for the Interim NREN NIC to ensure that end users receive adequate transition support.

End User Interview Summary

The End-users interviews revealed, as expected, that few had any contact with NICs whether for their mid-level network or for any other network. Most of the time either their own campus user services group provided aid or they had graduate students or colleagues who acted to provide general information about network services.  The end-users saw that NIC services played an important role in the infrastructure of support for the Interim NREN and they supported the allocation of resources to these necessary services.  However, many put a higher priority on bandwidth and growth of the network.  They also focused on their comments on requirements to significantly improve user interfaces, end user information, etc.