Merit Retires NSFNET Backbone Service

MichNet News, Vol. 9, No. 2

On April 30, Merit Network, Inc. terminated the NSFNET Backbone Service. This event also marked the end of Merit's seven year role as awardee of the NSFNET Cooperative Agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF). The cooperative agreement forged a partnership between  government, academia, and industry. Merit's partners were ANS, IBM, MCI, and the State of Michigan.

NSFNET:  A Grand Experiment

The first NSFNET was built by the Cornell Theory Center and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) with technical support from Dave Mills of the University of Delaware and Hans-Werner Braun of Merit. Nine years ago, it was a 56 Kbps network, primarily serving the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) six supercomputer centers.

NSF issued a new solicitation in 1987 to upgrade the network to an operational speed of 1.5Mbps (T1). As national networking needs further expanded, NSFNET was upgraded to operate at 45 Mbps (T3). Merit led both efforts, as manager of NSFNET Backbone Services. "It's sad to see the [NSFNET Backbone] service end. But it's also a pleasure to complete this grand experiment on such a successful note," says Elise Gerich, Merit Manager of Internet Engineering. "I think that the partnership succeeded beyond any of our dreams."

New Architecture Strengthens Networking

The current infrastructure grew out of NSF's decision in the 1980's to upgrade NSFNET and strengthen interregional and national networking. In May 1993, NSF proposed a new architecture, comprised of a very high speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS), Network Access Points (NAPs), Routing Arbiter (RA), and many Network Service Providers (NSPs) to carry national traffic. The architecture that NSF envisioned is now a reality.

NSF directly funds the RA and the vBNS, which will run at a speed of 155 Mbps (OC3). Use of the vBNS, operated by MCI, is restricted to organizations that require high speeds for applications such as scientific computation and visualization. Merit is continuing its work in national and international networking as the Routing Arbiter under a five year award from NSF that began in July, 1994.

Network Service Providers are not financed directly by NSF. Instead, NSF funds regional network attachments to NSPs, with support declining to zero over four years. NAPs interconnect the vBNS and other backbone networks, both domestic and foreign. The NAPs are operated by PacBell in San Francisco, Ameritech in Chicago, Sprint in New York, and Metropolitan Fiber Systems (MFS) in Washington, D.C.

NSF Focuses on Leading Edge Networking

The new architecture allows NSF to focus on its primary mission of promoting scientific research and development nationwide. By turning over the operational end of national networking to others, NSF can, to everyone's advantage, more actively pursue cutting edge networking activities.

Copyright 1994