NSFNET: Bringing the World of Ideas Together

April 1992

The National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) provides the opportunity for students, scientists, business people individuals from literally all walks of life to access resources ranging from electronic community bulletin boards to supercomputers scattered across the continent and around the world. The NSFNET offers access to the nation's largest and fastest network for research, education, and technology transfer.

In just over four years, the communications capacity of the network has expanded more than 700 times through the implementation of advanced technologies. Today the NSFNET backbone service carries data at the equivalent of 1400 pages of single-spaced, typed text per second. Increased capacity and reliability are the result of an aggressive national high-speed networking effort spearheaded by the National Science Foundation. This national initiative is helping to maintain U.S. leadership and competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Developing a National Networking Infrastructure

The current NSFNET backbone service dates from 1986 when the network consisted of a small number of 56 Kbps links connecting six nationally-funded supercomputer centers. Soon after its inception, the need for more advanced networking technology was demonstrated when rapid growth in traffic precipitated congestion on the early NSFNET backbone service.

In 1987, NSF issued a competitive solicitation for provision of a new, still faster network service. Merit worked in partnership with MCI, IBM, and the State of Michigan to submit a winning proposal that not only met the immediate requirements for improved networking, but offered a dynamic environment where new technologies could be tested and implemented to benefit the NSFNET backbone service.

The Merit, IBM, and MCI partnership delivered the initial T1 backbone network on schedule and within budget. The resulting backbone service connected 13 sites and began operation in July 1988. The circuits were provided by MCI and the routers were based on IBM RT technology.

Expanding the National Networking Infrastructure

By 1989, the partnership had already re-engineered the NSFNET by increasing the number of T1 circuits and improving router performance at no additional cost to NSF. The T1 circuits transmitted data at a rate of 1.544 Mbps, the equivalent of 50 pages of text per second.

The speed and capability encouraged new and innovative uses of the network for research and education. This resulted in an increase in network traffic over 15% per month. To meet the expanding demands, the National Science Foundation exercised an option in the existing five-year cooperative agreement for implementing state-of-the-art networking technology and deploying a much higher capacity network.

As a result of this decision, Advanced Network & Services, Inc. (ANS) was created. ANS is a not-for-profit corporation created by Merit, IBM, and MCI to be at the vanguard of research and operations for high-speed national networking.

Reaching More Users

Merit obtains NSFNET backbone services from ANS. ANS provides a major national backbone that operates at T3 speeds using circuits provided by MCI and central networking technology based on IBM RS/6000s. By the end of 1991, all NSFNET backbone sites were connected to the new ANS-provided T3 backbone.

In just a few years' time, the profound increase in the number of people using NSFNET has reaffirmed the need for this extensive high-speed data network. The increase in users is reflected in the number of local, state, and regional networks connected to the network. From an initial 170 networks in July 1988, the total now reaches over 4,500. In the same period, traffic went from an initial 195 million packets during the first full month of operation under Merit's management to over 12.2 billion in January 1992.

Collaborating Advances Technology

The NSFNET project demonstrates the effectiveness of coalescing government, higher education, and business and industry in order to advance the national agenda for research and education.

In addition to providing leading-edge technology, the Merit-ANS-IBM-MCI partnership has been highly successful in leveraging initial investments for the development of progressive network services. Merit, IBM, and MCI continue to work with ANS to provide reliable service and deploy state-of-the-art technologies to benefit users of the NSFNET backbone service. Daily operations are supported by the Merit Network Operations Center in Ann Arbor for round-the-clock monitoring of networks at campus, state, national, and international levels.

Serving the Customers

Beyond network operation and technological advancement, the NSFNET project develops resources to help individuals learn about and use network applications. User support services range from the Merit Networking Seminars presented on-site in conjunction with NSFNET regional networks across the country to online information services reachable from computers across the network, as well as network consulting and numerous publications.

Moving toward the Future

As we approach the 21st century the proliferation of gigabit speeds will promote enhanced capabilities such as distance learning, digital libraries, large scale distributed computing resources, real time visualization, high resolution graphics, and multi-media applications. By breaking down the barriers of time and space, NSFNET will continue to change the way people do their jobs and increase U.S. productivity.

Obtaining Additional Information

Information about the NSFNET project is provided electronically and in printed form. Online information files are available for anonymous File Transfer Protocol (FTP) from the NSFNET Information Services machine nis.nsf.net (Internet address Printed materials can be obtained by contacting Merit/NSFNET Information Services by phone or U.S. mail.

Merit Network, Inc.
Phone: (313) 936-3000
Electronic mail:
Facsimile: (313) 747-3185
U.S. mail:
Merit/NSFNET Information Services
2901 Hubbard, Pod G
Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2437

This brochure was produced by Merit Network, Inc. Copyright 1992

Merit/NSFNET Information Services, (313) 936-3000
2901 Hubbard Dr, Pod-G Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2437