National Science Foundation Network achieves major milestone

T-1 NSFNET now part of Internet history

December 2, 1992 -- Like it's predecessors, the ARPANET and the 56 Kbps National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET), the T-1 NSFNET passed into history today when the last router was moved to connect to the T-3 backbone service. As of 12:01 a.m. EST on Wednesday, December 2, the T-1 NSFNET backbone is no more--its circuits are turned off--marking the beginning of a new networking era.

When first implemented just over four years ago, the T-1 (1.5 Mbps) NSFNET backbone was state-of-the-art for the Internet, deploying new levels of speed and management. With improvements in routing technology, the Internet moved from an experimental service to a production commodity. Demands for higher speed services and increasing backbone traffic led to the T-3 (45 Mbps) backbone service implemented over the Advanced Network & Services, Inc. Network (ANSnet) that has replaced the older T-1 NSFNET technology. The growth of NSFNET promoted a global internetworking industry estimated as generating billions of dollars in annual revenues.

"Rapid change characterizes the high technology business," said Eric Aupperle, president of Merit Network, Inc. and principal investigator on the NSFNET project. "Five years ago, the federal government was predicting T-3 technologies in the mid-1990s, but demands for network service are pushing the speed of transferring technology from the laboratory to the desktop. And so T-3 technology is a reality today. While one era is ending, the stage is already being set for even  more advanced technologies in NSFNET networking within the next year to 18 months."

In five years, the communications capacity of NSFNET has expanded almost 700 times through the implementation of leading-edge technologies, growing from 56 Kbps to T-3. Today the network's backbone service carries data at the equivalent of 1,400 pages of single-spaced, typed text per second. This means the information in a 20-volume encyclopedia can be sent across the network in under 23 seconds!

Today every major research, graduate, and four-year university is tied together through NSFNET, along with private and federal research institutions and industries. Over 700 colleges and universities are connected representing 80 percent of the nation's student population and 90 percent of the nation's federally sponsored research. Further, NSFNET provides access to hundreds of high schools, libraries, community colleges, and smaller educational institutions. With over 1,000 public and private research and education institutions, NSFNET links an estimated 10 million users. As the commercial Internet has grown, links are expanding between education and business communities which are promoted through expanding connectivity.

Access to the network over the past five years has surpassed the most optimistic visions projected for it. The National Science Foundation's 1987 solicitation for NSFNET said, "It is anticipated that over the next five years NSFNET will reach more than 10,000 mathematicians, scientists, and engineers at 200 or more campuses and other research centers." After five years, these numbers have been more than exceeded and network growth continues to be exponential.

A reflection of that growth is network traffic. Total NSFNET traffic grew from 195 million packets in August 1988 to almost 24 billion in November 1992, a 100-fold increase in four years. During November, the network reached its first billion-packet-a-day mark. Network growth increases an averages of 11 percent per month. The total number of connected networks grew from fewer than 200 to over 7,500, of which one-third are outside the United States. Today NSFNET makes it possible to reach educators and researchers in over 75 countries around the world. Recent surveys show over a million host computers are connected to the Internet, with an even greater number of individual users accessing those computers.

Meeting the challenges of building the central infrastructure for this high-speed data communications network has been the focus of a joint government, academic, and industrial partnership for the past five years. Merit Network, Inc., in association with Advanced Network & Services, Inc. (ANS), IBM, MCI, and the State of Michigan, has led pioneering efforts to put in place a national network service through a 1987 cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. The partnership deployed the T-1 network on schedule in July 1988, and began the T-3 network service implemented over ANSnet in late 1990.

"The T-1 NSFNET project has been a remarkable adventure," said Stephen S. Wolff, director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Networking and Communications Research and Infrastructure (DNCRI). "It's an experiment whose success goes far beyond even the highest hopes we had for it. Because of this program, it's now conceivable that the U. S. can implement a network connecting every student and teacher in the country--from kindergarten to post-college--before the end of the century, revolutionizing education and research. Five years ago, this seemed only a very distant dream."