Link Letter

The Merit/NSFNET Backbone Project
Vol. 7 No. 1

July 1994

Table of Contents

Last Issue of the Link Letter!
Building a Data Superhighway
Pioneering Outreach and Education
Acclaimed Engineering Leadership
The Technology Timetable
Beyond Connectivity:  Research, Education, and Technology Transfer
A New Architecture for NSFNET
Working Towards a Seamless Transition
Routing Arbiter Will Take Global View
Enhanced Protocol for the FAA
Merit/Sprint Mail Gateway
CoNDUIT for Business and Education
Spotlight on K-12
Information Delivery for the Chronicle
NSF Funds Rural Datafication Project
Sunny Skies Shine on Elementary, Secondary Schools

Last Issue of the Link Letter!

This is the last issue of the Link Letter, the newsletter that has kept you informed about the Merit/NSFNET project since 1988.  Merit and its partners, Advanced Network & Services (ANS), IBM, MCI, and the State of Michigan, have built a network through the NSFNET project that ties together every major research, graduate, and four-year university in the country, along with major private and federal research institutions and industries. In addition, Merit's Information Services group has helped many thousands of people around the world learn to use the Internet.

As Merit nears the end of the cooperative agreement to manage and re-engineer the NSFNET, we are working on several new national networking projects. We are also expanding some long-standing activities for MichNet, the statewide network operated by Merit. Current national and state activities include:

Merit continues to take a major role in national and regional networking, but will no longer provide nationwide backbone services or information services for the NSFNET community.

We want to thank our loyal Link Letter readers for your comments and feedback during the past seven years.  We hope you'll enjoy this farewell issue, which includes an overview of the NSFNET project and a look at what's happening at Merit in summer 1994.


Building a Data Superhighway

A look back at the development of the NSFNET shows just how far the network has come since its beginnings in 1986.  At that time, the NSF's new network, which augmented the ARPANET, consisted of a small number of 56Kbps links connecting six nationally funded supercomputer centers (the five NSF centers and the National Center for Atmospheric Research). Soon after its inception, the need for more advanced networking technology was indicated when rapid growth in traffic precipitated serious congestion on the early NSFNET.

In 1987, NSF issued a competitive solicitation for provision of a new, faster network service.  The new service would provide a network backbone to link the six supercomputer centers and seven mid-level networks. The mid-level networks in turn connected campuses and research organizations around the country, creating a three-tiered network architecture that remains in place today.

Merit developed a partnership with MCI, IBM, and the State of Michigan to submit a winning proposal that not only met the immediate requirements for improving NSFNET, but offered a dynamic environment where new technologies could be developed and implemented.  The proposal included plans for a T1 backbone with an option for T3 service after 1990. On November 19, 1987, the National Science Foundation announced a five-year cooperative agreement with Merit for the design, engineering, management, and operation of backbone services for NSFNET.

Since the beginning of the NSFNET project, the use of advanced technologies has made it possible to expand the communications capacity of NSFNET more than 700 times.  As you can see from the figures below, there is a striking contrast between today's NSFNET and the NSFNET of 1988.


                     NETWORKING ... THEN AND NOW

                               1988           1994
    Attached networks          240            32,400, growing by 150-300
    Non-U.S. networks          9              13,541
    Packets transmitted        195 million    60 billion, an increase
    per month                                   of more than 300-fold
    FYIs (introductory         0              24
        "For Your Infor-
        mation" series
        about the Internet)
    Internet guidebooks        0              40
    Internet tools             FTP, telnet    Gopher, WAIS, WWW,
                                                Mosaic, Archie

The technological explosion of the past few years has been matched by an explosive growth in the range of services available to users.  When Merit began providing information services to the Internet community in 1988, FTP, telnet, and e-mail were the only navigational tools available.  Now Gopher, Mosaic, and WWW ease access to the Internet for novices and seasoned explorers alike.  See the next article for more about changes in Internet information services.


Pioneering Outreach and Education

Today people learn how to use the Internet in a variety of ways-through books, magazines, classes, workshops, videos, paper and online tutorials-the list is endless.  In 1988, when Merit began providing Internet information services, very few of these resources were available.

Merit was a pioneer in what is now a crowded field.  The staff at Merit conceived, designed, and provided information services for a new community of users-for teachers, students, librarians, and others who were new to networking, and whose needs were very different from those of the scientists and researchers who had previously been the network's primary users.  Working in parallel with BBN Systems and Technologies, Merit was instrumental in training the bulk of today's Internet trainers.  These efforts have gone a long way toward building the data superhighway we all rely on today.

The focus of Merit's Information Services has been direct technical support for regional networks and development of an online information system that is reachable from computers around the country.  With the help of the mid-level networks, Merit has helped many colleges and universities make the transition to inter-campus networking.  Merit's Advanced Topics Seminars have been presented for technical and administrative personnel at the NSFNET regional sites.  Talks and seminars for user groups and other professional organizations have helped hundreds of researchers understand the benefits of NSFNET access.

The Merit/NSFNET Networking Seminars, "Making Your Internet Connection Count," brought together Internet experts, network developers and administrators, information support specialists, librarians, and teachers who needed to know the latest about networking for their institutions.  Beginning in 1989, seminars were presented on-site in conjunction with NSFNET regional networks in Hilton Head, Denver, Ann Arbor, Washington, D.C./College Park, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Orlando.

The Merit Information Services staff has given presentations about NSFNET at sites from the University of Maine to the University of Hawaii, and outside the U.S., in locations including Canada, the Virgin Islands, and Mexico.  Merit Information Services staff worked successfully with many institutions to design network training on a variety of topics, from library resources to discipline-specific databases.  These organizations include:

Many of these presentations featured Merit's popular "Cruise of the Internet," an informative slide presentation written by Laura Kelleher. A colorful, computer-based Cruise was developed by Steve Burdick, Kelleher, and Mark Davis-Craig for Macintosh and Windows users.

In addition, Merit's hands-on Internet tutorials have met with great success throughout the state of Michigan and at Stanford University, the University of Florida, the University of Hawaii, and NASA's MinorityUniversity-Space Interdisciplinary Network (MU-SPIN).

Information Delivery
An early and ongoing focus of the Information Services group has been the collection, processing, storing, and reporting of NSFNET performance statistics.  NSFNET historical data on Merit's host computer,, includes:

The online collection also provides information about the Internet, the NREN, Merit, and MichNet.  Included are administrative and policy information relevant to the NSFNET backbone network; archives devoted to Internet activities, such as network research and legislative work to promote the NREN; RFCs, FYIs, and other publications; complete Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) documentation and records; and Merit/IETF's unique collection of information for new users, found in the directory titled introducing.the.internet.

You can access through e-mail, FTP, Gopher, WWW, and WAIS. For more information about access, send e-mail to nic with only this text: help

Merit's outreach activities have brought the latest information about network technology and resources to thousands of people worldwide. Merit demos and presentations have been highlighted at InterOp, U.S. National Net, Canada Net, INET, EARN, RARE, and RIPE.  Merit Technical and Information Services staff have given many pre-conference seminars at CAUSE, EDUCOM, and meetings of the American Library Association. Networking organizations in which Merit plays a key role include the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Activities Board, FARNET, the Coalition for Networked Information, and many others.

In addition to the Link Letter, regular publications of the Information Services group have included NSFNET policy statements and press releases, papers and brochures about national networking, and monthly, quarterly, and annual reports to NSF.  Other user support documents include FYIs and RFCs by Ellen Hoffman, Dana Sitzler, and Pat Smith. The staff have also published articles about the NSFNET and national networking in many magazines and trade journals.

Role of NNSC
As noted earlier in this article, another longtime provider of services to the Internet has been the NSF Network Service Center (NNSC) at BBN Systems and Technologies in Cambridge, MA.  NNSC worked with regionals to get them up and running, and offered a wide range of consulting services to providers and end users alike.  NNSC also published the NSF Network News.

Arrival of the InterNIC
NSF issued a new solicitation for information services in spring 1992, and made an award early in 1993 to three organizations collectively called the InterNIC.  These are Network Solutions, Inc., of Herndon, VA, which handles Internet Registration Services; AT&T, which provides Directory and Database Services; and General Atomics of San Diego, which manages Information Services.

Services available through the InterNIC include a hotline (619-455-4600), consulting via e-mail (, and comprehensive online information accessible through FTP, telnet, Gopher, WAIS, and WWW.  The InterNIC also publishes the NSF Network News.  To access the InterNIC, point your gopher client to at port 70, or telnet to and log in as 'gopher'.

-Susan R. Harris, Merit


Acclaimed Engineering Leadership

NSF Program Director Priscilla Huston once called the NSFNET backbone a "legendary national backbone service"-a great tribute to the programmers and engineers who have designed and operated the world's fastest R&E network.

Merit's engineering staff is internationally known for its leading role in Internet development efforts.  The staff has made major contributions in fields such as network architecture, management, and monitoring; and routing and routing protocols.

Significant accomplishments made during the NSFNET project by Merit and its partners include:

Members of the Merit staff lead many Internet standards and coordination bodies, and are active in numerous professional organizations, including the Internet Society, Internet Architecture Board, IETF, American National Standards Institute, the Federal Engineering Planning Group, and many others.

Elise Gerich, who leads Merit's Routing Arbiter project, serves as the North American co-chair of the International Engineering Planning Group, and is a member of the Internet Architecture Board.  Gerich joined the Merit staff in 1988 as a member of the NSFNET project team.

IETF working groups that are chaired by members of the Merit staff include:

Hares is also past Chair of the IETF Network Joint Management working group.  Allan Rubens and John Vollbrecht are past Co-Chairs of the Network Access Server Requirements working group.

Ellen Hoffman, a past manager of the Information Services group, is past Co-Chair of the IETF User Documents Revisions working group.  Former IS staff member Pat Smith is past Co-Chair of the Network Information Services Infrastructure working group.

Key roles in the development of Internet standards have also been played by former staffers Hans-Werner Braun, Bilal Chinoy, Dave Katz, Mark
Knopper, and Chris Weider.  A small sampling of RFCs and other papers authored by the NSFNET partnership is shown below.  Titles of RFCs, Internet Drafts, and journals are in italics.

Eric Aupperle, the Director of Merit since 1974, and now Merit's President, has led Merit's efforts since the beginning of the NSFNET project in 1987.  Jim Williams is now Merit's Associate Director for National Networking, and has been with the network since 1992.

Important contributions to the development of Merit's state-of-the-art Network Operations Center were made by Dale Johnson, the NOC's initial manager, and John Labbe, current NOC manager, who led the NOC through its transition to management by ANS.  (For more on the NOC, see "The Technology Timetable"-1988 and 1992.)


The Technology Timetable

Year by year, the NSFNET has evolved to become the access point into the world's largest and fastest network for research, education, and technology transfer.


Farewell to the 56Kbps Backbone.  Only eight months after the NSF award, the Merit, IBM, and MCI partnership delivered its new T1 (1.5Mbps) backbone network on schedule and within budget.  The resulting backbone service connected 13 sites, with routers based on IBM RTs. With the new backbone in place, network traffic doubled within a month of implementation.

With the successful implementation of the T1 network, the old 56Kbps backbone was permanently turned off on July 25, 1988.

In addition to the backbone itself, Merit, MCI and IBM developed a new Network Operations Center operated by Merit in Ann Arbor and backed by equipment and software provided by IBM for monitoring and troubleshooting the network.  Merit's NOC was one of the first round-the-clock operation centers within the Internet, setting new standards for coverage.



End of the ARPANET.  In early 1989, the partnership began planning for a major re-engineering based on increasing traffic and a better understanding of the dynamics of the new network.  In July, Merit re-engineered the NSFNET backbone by increasing the number of T1 circuits and improving router performance.  All 13 sites now had redundant pathways to the backbone to increase the reliability of the network.

The speed and capability encouraged new and innovative uses of the network for research and education.  This resulted in a further dramatic increase in network traffic, and new demands to NSF for direct attachment for emerging state and regional networks, as well as the need for improved connectivity to other major federal backbone networks.

In June, the FIX (Federal Internet eXchange) East and West sites were connected to the NSFNET at College Park and Palo Alto, respectively. The FIXs were designed and engineered by Merit and other members of the Federal Engineering Planning Group.  These interconnection points brought improved Internet communication among NSFNET, Milnet, and the Department of Energy's and NASA's networks.  With this new Internet structure in place, the ARPANET was phased out by mid-1990.

Merit also worked with NSF on the problem of new NSFNET connections, leading to NSF's July 1989 solicitation for proposals to establish up to eight new backbone nodes.



Towards a Higher-Capacity Network.  Discussions among the partnership and consultation with other federal agencies began in late 1989 to establish the groundwork for a possible T3 (45Mbps) network. Based on these discussions and the need to establish new nodes, Merit submitted a proposal to NSF for higher speed connections to eight sites (five T1 sites and three new ones) in April 1990.

In late May 1990, Merit's cooperative agreement with NSF was modified to cover the additional work, adding $7.9 million to the cooperative agreement. By the end of the year, three sites (Merit, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and the National Center for Supercomputer Applications) were connected to an early T3 service and began testing traffic exchanges. In addition, a new T3 research and test network was implemented to parallel the existing T1 test facility.

As the backbone network service was growing in complexity and was re-engineered, the underlying organizational structure had to evolve. Increasing focus and resources were needed to keep pace with the more complex technical, business, and policy environments.

To meet these organizational challenges, ANS was created and announced in September 1990.  ANS is a private, not-for-profit corporation founded (but not owned) by Merit, IBM, and MCI.  ANS began to provide T3 network service for NSFNET as a subcontractor to Merit, with IBM, MCI, and others continuing to infuse new technologies to develop the infrastructure.



T3 Testing and Deployment.  NSFNET network services in place today were established over a rocky period of refining the technology during 1991.  During this period, the T1 and T3 networks existed in parallel.

Difficulties in tuning the new technology prevented the network from being moved to full production status until late in the year.  The connections were physically in place but most traffic remained on the T1, causing increasing congestion on the older structure by year's end, an effect accurately projected by earlier partnership engineering studies.

By late 1991, all sixteen backbone sites comprising the NSFNET service were connected to the new ANS national T3 infrastructure.  With expansion work completed and improved performance validated, several sites began using the T3 for their primary traffic path by November.  A final round of testing in mid-December set the stage for moving the remaining NSFNET traffic to the new backbone services in early 1992.

The T3 service was a new venture in every way, both technically and organizationally.  ANS and Merit developed a major national backbone operating at T3 speeds using circuits provided by MCI and central networking technology based on the IBM RISC System/6000.  The new network was the first to implement production data services nationally at T3 speeds, and created a 30-fold increase in bandwidth.



The T1 Passes Into History.  Following a year of intensive modifications to the technology, the T3 NSFNET service achieved full production status. Based on the preceding year's experience and recommendations made by the regionals, the phase-in of new traffic and updated hardware proceeded steadily, but on a conservative schedule.  By February, approximately a third of all traffic was entering on the T3 network, beginning to reduce congestion problems on the T1 infrastructure.

Major hardware upgrades improved switching performance.  By fall, not only were all sixteen NSFNET sites using the T3 for their production traffic, but the FIX sites had been moved over as well as interconnections with CA*net and other international sites.  The network now exceeded the T1 structure in stability by a factor of ten, with fewer outages and errors in all categories.

That fall, the National Science Board approved a request by NSF to extend the current Cooperative Agreement with Merit for 18 months beyond the October 1992 expiration date of the new contract.  This made it possible for Merit and its partners to maintain a stable networking environment while NSF furthered its plans for a new NSFNET program in 1994.

In November, NSFNET backbone services were restructured, with ANS taking over the NOC, backbone network engineering, and network troubleshooting functions.   Merit continued overall management of the NSFNET backbone services project, while focusing new attention on network research, information services, and internetwork routing.

In December, as the T3 infrastructure achieved its performance and reliability objectives, the T1 routers went to the "Big NOC in the Sky," as a memorable Link Letter headline reported.  One of the IBM RTs was donated to the Computer Museum in Boston, to take its place along with other mementos of the digital past.



Configuration Breakthrough.  The task of routing traffic on the NSFNET backbone presents a unique network management challenge for the partnership:  configuring pathways for thousands of networks that may themselves have multiple backbone connections and may, based on various policy restrictions, prefer some connections over others.

Merit took a great stride forward in March, when the routing configuration process moved from SPIRES, a hierarchical, mainframe-based database, to Informix, a Unix-based relational database.  The new Policy Routing Database (PRDB) is the cornerstone of a powerful set of tools that greatly facilitate the entry, reporting, and management of the vast amount of information required to keep the NSFNET backbone routing running smoothly.

The database tracks both the entities that comprise the NSFNET-the networks, links, autonomous systems, routers, and routing sessions-and also the policies that describe how routing information should be generated, collected, and redistributed among these systems.  Automation has helped make the task of configuring the entire backbone more manageable.

The design of the PRDB is flexible, allowing it to keep pace with the Internet's constantly evolving routing architecture, and making it possible to accommodate new protocols and routing paradigms with a minimum of programming effort.  The system also scales well, handling the hundreds of new NSFNET connections that are approved each month without sacrificing performance or maintainability.

In addition to these developments, 1993 also saw important hardware and software improvements to the backbone.  As part of a continuing effort to streamline T3 backbone topology, changes were made in July to improve circuit route diversity-to create different physical paths for links that would normally use the same path.  Circuit diversity contributes greatly towards hardening the backbone against potential failures, such as fiber cuts.

In December, a major router upgrade doubled packet switching rates on the T3 backbone.  The limit on the maximum number of routes that could be put on the RS/6000 routers was also greatly increased at other times during the year.



Rx for IP Addresses.  The NSFNET partnership reached one of its most important goals in March, when it deployed CIDR, the Classless Inter-Domain Routing protocol, on the backbone.  CIDR represents a short-term solution to two serious problems facing the Internet:  a shortage of IP address space, and the exponential growth of routing tables, which keep track of tens of thousands of interconnected networks.  In the new CIDR architecture, the familiar Class A, B, and C allocation scheme is replaced with a classless system.  The address space can then be allocated in a way that groups, or aggregates, routing information more efficiently, so it can be stored more compactly in routing tables.

GateD with Border Gateway Protocol (BGP-4) was deployed on the backbone in time for the transition to CIDR.  For more on the GateD software, see page x.

Costs Diminish Over Time.  The costs to NSF of supporting the NSFNET partnership have dropped dramatically over time-a remarkable fact, considering the tremendous growth and increasing complexity of the backbone.  As shown in the accompanying diagram, the average monthly cost of the project per megabyte transmitted has dropped by two orders of magnitude since 1988.

-Ellen Hoffman, Merit

A Bird's-Eye View of Internet History

1969-mid 70s-DoD ARPANET program initiated
1980-TCP/IP protocol suite debuts
1986-NSFNET created to link NSF-funded supercomputer centers
1988-Merit implements T1 NSFNET backbone to link supercomputer centers and regionals
1989-Federal Interconnection Exchange sites on east and west coasts link federal internets (NSFNET, NSI, Milnet, ESNET)
1992-NSFNET T3 backbone services implemented

The NSFNET project has been a remarkable adventure.  It's an experiment whose success goes far beyond even the highest hopes we had for it. Because of this program, the U.S. has a network that is revolutionizing education and research across the country.  In 1987, when the project began, this seemed only a very distant dream.

-Stephen S. Wolff, Director, Division of Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure, National Science Foundation


Beyond Connectivity:  Research, Education, and Technology Transfer

The success of the NSFNET project is not confined to the deployment of backbone network services.  Innovative technology requires dynamic programs of research to keep technology moving.  As demonstrated by the accomplishments noted on page x,  Merit's partnership effort for NSFNET has encompassed more than just the operation of a network.

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.  New products and services, many of which have become networking standards today, were pioneered by the partnership.  Related projects have been carried out with many other vendors and organizations, including Northern Telecom, Bellcore, Ameritech, AT&T, Sprint, MCI, and NASA.

Innovative demonstrations at conferences such as InterOp and EDUCOM's Net series displayed the first T3 Internet service, IP over FDDI, Connectionless Network Layer Protocol (CLNP) over IP, and monitoring tools such as Rover and XGMON, IBM's X Windows-based Graphic Monitor.

An area of new development is in issues and policies relating to privatization and commercialization of the Internet.  ANS was founded in part to provide a foundation for interconnecting commercial service providers with higher education and research enterprises, as well as to begin the process of privatizing the network.  To further this process, in May 1991 ANS established a for-profit subsidiary, ANS CO+RE Systems, Inc., to serve commercial customers and link them to the research and education community.  Discussions with representatives of the regional networks, FARNET, and the NSF were held to ensure that the costs of providing commercial services are completely reimbursed through non-governmental sources.  Fees from commercial use of backbone services, minus operating expenses and taxes, are returned to ANS for reinvestment to benefit NSFNET.

The creation of ANS CO+RE and its work with regional networks was one of the pioneering efforts that blazed the trail for major segments of the Internet to carry commercial traffic, creating many new commercial Internet service providers and taking a major step forward in pursuing the vision of the original drafters of the NSFNET program.

-Ellen Hoffman, Merit

The NSFNET project was instrumental in bringing a research-oriented network up to a production-grade level, and played a significant role in moving the Internet out from under a federal umbrella into an infrastructure that was ready for commercial use.

-Hans-Werner Braun, Principal Investigator for Management and Operation of the NSFNET backbone, 1987-1991, currently Principal Scientist, San Diego Supercomputer Center


A New Architecture for NSFNET

Much of what's happening now in networking can be traced back to NSF's decision in the 1980's to upgrade and promote the use of NSFNET, and to require the use of TCP/IP on the network.  NSF launched a new era in networking with a major program that would enhance national networking in three ways.

First, it would upgrade to a T1-based network, and later to T3.  It would also create and strengthen regional networks throughout the country.  A third element was to fund educational institutions to help them establish connectivity to the NSFNET.

The tremendous success of NSF's program can be seen not only in the remarkable increase in the number of NSFNET users, the number of attached networks, and the amount of backbone traffic, but also by the fact that there are now many commercial organizations providing Internet connectivity services.  Multiple options are available for institutions who want fast, reliable Internet connections-NSFNET is no longer the only alternative.

These changes have made it possible for NSF to step back from actually operating a network to focus on its primary mission-to promote education and research for science and engineering across the country.  NSF remains committed to furthering national networking efforts, but concentrates on supporting leading-edge networking activities, now that the basic networking infrastructure is off to a good start.

Looking toward the future, in spring 1992, after preliminary discussions with a variety of individuals and organizations and a series of congressional hearings, NSF published a draft solicitation for a new NSFNET architecture.  The solicitation was received and commented on by organizations around the country, and a new solicitation was issued in May 1993.

The new NSFNET architecture conceived in the solicitation is less centralized than the current structure.  NSF now envisions many backbone networks provided by commercial and government organizations.  Only one of the backbones, the vBNS (very high speed Backbone Network Services), is to be directly funded by NSF, and is to operate at at least 155Mbps (OC3).  Its use is restricted to science and research applications that require these high speeds, such as scientific computation and visualization.  It is a special-purpose network, and other applications have to be carried on other backbones.

NAPs The other backbones will not be financed directly by NSF.  Instead, NSF will fund regional networks to obtain attachments to the various backbone networks, with funds declining to zero over five years.  These original network attachments could be direct links to network service providers, or to something new called a NAP (Network Access Point.)  NSF proposed four NAPs, each of which will provide a neutral interconnection point for U.S.-based and international network service providers.

Routing Arbiter
The last element in the new architecture is an NSF-funded Routing Arbiter (RA).  The RA will create and maintain databases and routing services for network providers to promote both routing stability and the use of advanced routing protocols.  The RA will also develop new route servers, which can represent multiple routing policies and will exchange routing information with other gateways and routers on the network.

Regional Networks
Under the terms of the new solicitation, NSF's funding will be channeled through the regional networks on a declining schedule:  100 percent of current levels the first year, 75 percent the second, and so on, to zero in the fifth year.  Regional networks will then buy connectivity from the supplier of their choice.

Next Steps
In February 1994, the National Science Board (NSB) gave its administrative approval for NSF to proceed with arrangements for the new architecture.  Approval was given for a proposal that operation of the vBNS be awarded to MCI Communications Corporation.  The NSB also endorsed NSF's plan to establish two five-year collaborative agreements with Merit and the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute to offer RA services for the NSFNET program and the Internet.

In March, NSF announced that it had initiated negotiations of awards with MFS Datanet for management of the Washington, D.C., NAP; with Sprint for the New York NAP; and with Bellcore for the California NAP, which will be managed and operated by PacBell, and the Chicago NAP, to be managed and operated by Ameritech.

-Susan R. Harris, Merit


Working Towards a Seamless Transition

Planning for implementation of the vBNS, NAPs, and RA is under way at NSF and other organizations around the country.  According to an ambitious schedule announced by NSF, the new NAPs will be available by August 15.  At that time, NSFNET backbone services will be attached to the NAPs, with all current attachments to the NSFNET remaining in place. On August 15, network service providers (NSPs) will begin to attach to the NAPs, and regional networks that currently attach to NSFNET will begin to establish connections to NSPs.

By October 31, the regionals will cut over all traffic to the NSPs and disconnect their attachments to the NSFNET.  Only the supercomputer centers will remain attached to the NSFNET.

The vBNS will be deployed by January 1, 1995, and attached to the NAPs by February 1.  NSFNET backbone services will be disconnected by April 30, 1995.

Merit's Role

NSF's original backbone award to Merit and its partners was a five-year program.  In 1992, as noted in the "Technology Timetable" article earlier in this issue, the agreement was extended to April 1994.

Merit has now been awarded a transition extension that began in May 1994 and lasts 12 months.  The current backbone will thus be available until all connections are switched to the new service, by April 1995.

During this transitional period to the new architecture, Merit is working with NSPs and regionals to help ensure a smooth changeover to the new architecture.  Merit has begun a joint study with Bellcore and PacBell to test the proposed routing protocols and the route server concept on an ATM testbed, which simulates a NAP environment.  The Merit staff is also evaluating routing strategies for multi-media NAPs, designing a network management architecture for the RA, and collaborating with other Internet registries to design a worldwide routing registry.  (See the next article.)


Routing Arbiter Will Take Global View

As noted earlier in this issue, the National Science Board has approved NSF's plan to establish two five-year collaborative agreements with Merit and the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute (ISI) to offer RA services for NSFNET and the Internet.

ISI is a leading computer science research institute, and has been a key member of the community that developed TCP/IP and many applications protocols of the Internet.

Under the new NSF program, Merit has the central role in technical coordination for Internet service providers who need to interchange traffic.  Initially, this function is needed to assure smooth operations and stability for the Internet during the transition to the new technologies resulting from the recent NSF award program and beyond.  As new routing protocols are implemented and deployed, Merit will continue to carry out this central coordinating role for NSPs.

The RA will treat network service providers equitably with regard to routing administration, and will provide a common database of route information to promote stability and manageability of the network.  The new database, a global routing registry, will hold information about network topology, policy (routing path preferences), and interconnections that can be used by attached networks to build routing table configurations.  Merit is working with other Internet registries to design ways to represent, store, and retrieve routing policy in the new database.

Merit will work with ISI to implement new technologies for routing traffic among Internet networks, using high-powered workstations that will serve as route servers.  Merit will be responsible for deploying and managing the new technologies, which are expected to be a key to accommodating continued Internet growth and complexity resulting from the many new users of the Internet in the next few years.

Merit and ISI will also perform ongoing analyses of routing efficiencies and coordinate with experimental network testbeds.  The RA can thus serve as a focal point for technology transfer, assuring that investments in gigabit testbeds, computer science departments, national laboratories, and telecommunications research will be integrated into the developing national information infrastructure.


Enhanced Protocol for the FAA

Under a research grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Merit is developing an implementation of the Inter-Domain Routing Protocol (IDRP) that will be added to the set of routing protocols known as GateD (for GateDaemon, pronounced "gate-dee").

IDRP specifies what information can flow between networks, and makes it possible for wide-area networks to interconnect in ways that recognize and enhance the policies and missions of each network.  GateD, developed by Cornell University and other contributors, is a modular software platform used to prototype and deploy new routing protocols on Unix systems.

Merit's FAA effort is led by Sue Hares, who chairs the IETF "Network OSI Operations" and "OSI IDRP for IP Over IP" working groups.  The advanced IDRP features developed by Merit will be publicly available, and will used by the FAA's ATN project-the Aeronautical Telecommunication Network air/ground communication system.  Inter-domain routing will make it possible for data links to connect air control towers, airline ground stations, or parts of the FAA.  Aircraft will be able to receive weather, navigation, and scheduling information needed by the aircraft control systems.  In emergencies, troubleshooting guides could be transmitted to an aircraft from control personnel on the ground.

ATN is based on international standards developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and uses the Open System Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model.  The software developed by Merit is being integrated with a research ATN router being developed under a joint government/industry project managed by the MITRE Corporation.


Merit/Sprint Mail Gateway

Since early 1990, Merit staff have managed an important electronic mail gateway between SprintMail, a commercial X.400 mail network, and the Internet.  SprintMail, operated by Sprint International, provides mail service to thousands of corporations and individual users in the United States and abroad.

The Merit/Sprint gateway converts mail between X.400, an international mail standard used by most European countries and many U.S. corporations, and Internet-style messages using SMTP, the TCP/IP Simple Mail Transfer Protocol.

In four years of operation, mail traffic handled by the gateway has grown from 300 messages a day in 1990 to over 30,000 messages a day in 1994.


CoNDUIT for Business and Education

A February 1994 White House press release announced that the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) has won $24.3 million under the Technology Reinvestment Program, a multi-agency federal project.  Merit is one of the five organizations leading in the new program, which is aimed at providing small manufacturing businesses with training using network infrastructure.  Merit's efforts for the SME are being led by Development Director Ellen Hoffman.

Called CoNDUIT (Cooperative Network for Dual Use Information Technologies), the project will link a nationwide network of community colleges to create a "virtual enterprise"-a network that will allow full implementation of teleconferencing, remote library access, and daily communication among business and educational facilities.  A central resource for the network will be a new Industry NIC (I-NIC) that will provide business with human and online support systems for understanding and using network technologies.  Training in multi-media will be an important part of I-NIC services.

Merit is also a subcontractor under a 1993 award made to Michigan State University under the Technology Reinvestment Program.  Called the Michigan Industrial Extension Partnership, the project will provide network services to industrial extension agents in the state.


Spotlight on K-12

Funds now available to Michigan's K-12 community will make it possible to greatly improve educational telecommunications around the state. Settlement of the "Michigan Bell Rebate Case" brings more than $26 million dollars to Michigan public education, with the funds to be disbursed partly by the state and partly by Ameritech.  (Michigan Bell is now known as Ameritech.)

For Michigan, the new resource presents a unique opportunity to infuse technology into the curriculum and link schools in a dynamic network. For Merit, with an historic role in Michigan networking, the new funding provides an opportunity to expand programs already developed in partnership with the state's schools. In March 1994, the governor-appointed Michigan Council on Telecommunications Services for Public Education issued a "Request for Pre-Proposal," inviting proposals for allocating approximately $9 million of the total funds.  The Council encouraged collaborative efforts between groups of organizations, rather than submissions by individual schools or even school districts.

MichNet, the statewide network operated by Merit, has stepped up its K-12 outreach activities, in order to help schools respond to the Request for Pre-Proposal.  It is Merit's hope that the initiative will result in direct attachments of school LANs to the Internet.  If the network is truly going to serve large numbers of students and teachers, direct attachments are needed, as opposed to individual dial-in, where one phone line and one modem support one user.

Background of the Rebate Case.
Two pools of money are available to Michigan schools; both will be used to support education telecommunications projects.  The first pool grows out of $10.5 million of earnings under the Michigan Bell Rebate Case, plus interest, which Ameritech is refunding to the state's rate payers.  Ameritech is spending an equivalent amount, $10.5 million plus interest, as a matching fund.  Ameritech and the state have agreed that they would consult with one another as they disburse their separate pools of money, but neither side will control spending by the other.

Teachers Star at Briefings.
To familiarize teachers and administrators with the benefits of direct Internet access, and to provide details on the new funding opportunities, Merit held a series of Internet Briefings and Open Houses for the K-12 community in March and April.  The sessions included presentations by Merit staff and teachers from Project Connect, the joint project between five K-12 schools, Merit, and Novell, Inc., which provided the first Michigan schools with direct connections to the Internet.

The presentations by Project Connect teachers were a highlight of the briefings.  At John Page Middle School in Madison Heights, teachers work as a team learning MichNet/Internet capabilities and procedures so that the "how to's" can be shared with students and staff.

Robert Bess, Computer Co-ordinator at John Page, says that "truly, we have been bitten by the Internet bug and daily see new ways to use the Internet."  Students at the school have participated in "Puzzle Now," a mathematics competition sponsored by Heidi Dickens Bernard at Christiansburg Middle School in Christiansburg, VA.  Heidi, the Puzzlemeister, and her kids, send a logic puzzle each week to approximately 30 schools participating in the project, from Australia to Finland.

Students work as a team to arrive at a solution and submit it to Heidi. Two types of solutions are recognized:  the best creative answer and the best strategy.  The explanation of how the answer was arrived at is the most important aspect of the challenge.  Acknowledged three times this school year for the best creative solution, Mrs. Patricia Waidknecht's eighth grade class relishes solving the puzzles and formulating the solutions.

Barbara Buczynski, the Science Department Chair at John Page, encouraged her students to find a mentor on the Internet to answer their questions about earthworms.  They found and subsequently wrote to a likely candidate while cruising through the countless lists of resources and contacts on the Internet-an e-mail address that contained .zoo.  Their contact, who was not an expert on earthworms, referred the students to an expert colleague who sent a two-page response to their questions. Taking an active part in their own learning prepares students for the educational process they will engage in as adults.

Michigan Leadership.  Hundreds of people around the state are now working together to develop partnerships that will help schools and school districts make the best use of the new funding.  Once the awards are made, new connections planned, and new networks in place, Michigan will be on its way to becoming a national leader in developing a statewide K-12 information superhighway-one that will not only bring new collaborations between schools, but open the world of the Internet to students statewide.


Information Delivery for the Chronicle

Organizations around the globe are making a wide variety of information freely available on the Internet, and the information is getting easier to access every day.  In April 1993, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Merit launched a free Internet service that provides in-depth news and information for the worldwide academic community.  Called ACADEME THIS WEEK, the weekly service includes:

A new edition of ACADEME THIS WEEK becomes available on the Internet every Tuesday at noon.  At present, only the current issue of the Chronicle is available online.  To access ACADEME THIS WEEK, point your Gopher client to at port 70.

For information about Merit's other information delivery and host services, send e-mail to with only this text: get


NSF Funds Rural Datafication Project

MichNet is one of eight state networks joining CICNet, the midwest regional network, in the Rural Datafication Project funded by a $1.3 million grant from NSF.  In the same way that the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 brought electrical power to millions of rural residents, the Rural Datafication project aims to extend Internet access and services to constituencies that otherwise might not gain exposure to the Internet.

The project focuses on three key areas:

Reaching a previously underserved audience means making the technology accessible without huge support costs.  The effort spent once to develop standards and materials can be reused in each state network; using common infrastructure will reduce costs; and developing a regional approach to the rural datafication problem will strengthen the focus and scope of the NSFNET program throughout the Midwest.

For more information about the Rural Datafication Project, point your Gopher client to at port 70.


Sunny Skies Shine on Elementary, Secondary Schools

Perry J. Samson wants to bring the world of weather to the desk of every elementary and secondary school student in Michigan.

With support from NSF, Samson and his students are developing a full-color interactive software package called Blue-Skies, which will provide access to U.S. Weather Service databases and environmental monitoring data from space satellites. Samson is a Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan.

The students access Blue-Skies over MichNet, and the MichNet staff provides technical consulting for the project.

"Weather is a great way to bring science into the context of each student's daily life.  It helps them understand the long-term changes taking place in Earth's climate and environment, too," says Samson.

With Blue-Skies, a Macintosh, and a modem, Michigan students can track approaching storm fronts, check on weather conditions around the world,
monitor the growth of the ozone hole over Antarctica, study acid rain changes in North America during the past decade, and see pictures taken from space satellites within the past hour.

"Blue-Skies gives students the tools they need to explore hundreds of real-time weather and environmental images," Samson notes.  "The software was designed to provide a user-friendly interface, so students with a minimal computer background can find the information they need."

According to Samson, the NSF will use Blue-Skies and schools in the state of Michigan to demonstrate how networking technology can help integrate aspects of science education reform.  The goal of Samson's Weather Underground project is to incorporate computer technology into the elementary and secondary school science curriculum.

"Michigan's unique network resources give us access to the vast world of the Internet and outstanding tools like Blue-Skies," said Dana Sitzler, K-12 Outreach Coordinator for Merit.  "This application is a great example of the benefits of extending the information superhighway to the K-12 community."

Eventually, Samson wants to upgrade Blue-Skies into a fully interactive system.  "We want to develop a wide variety of activities on Blue-Skies that will help students see science as something they can use every day," Samson said.  "Students will record and enter local temperatures and precipitation amounts into Blue-Skies.  Their data will be combined with data received from the National Weather Service, so students will see their own school displayed on Blue-Skies' new interactive weather maps.  We also plan to conduct statewide competitions between schools for the most accurate weather forecast."

Blue-Skies is currently being tested in science classes at several schools.  "The greatest challenge we face now is developing curriculum activities to take advantage of this new accessibility to real-time information," Samson said. "We're assembling a core group of enthusiastic teachers to design and test the new curriculum, and looking for parents and student teachers with science or technical backgrounds to assist teachers who want to use the software in their classrooms."

An IBM-PC version of the software will be available later this year. Hardware requirements are a color monitor, a 9600 bps modem or faster, and a telephone line installed in the classroom.

The school system can purchase all necessary hardware for about $2,000," Samson said.  "We've even established a computer loaner program for teachers who want to try Blue-Skies for a short period to demonstrate the value of a computer hook-up to administrators or parents."

"Our goal is to help Michigan students become active participants in the collection, reporting and analysis of weather and environmental information as it happens," Samson said. If you would like more information about Blue-Skies, send e-mail to or write to Weather Underground, U-M, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2143, or call (313) 936-0503.