Printech Archive, February, 1999: Internet 2: Abilene

Internet 2: Abilene

Wayne Pferdehirt (
Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:01:51 CST

I thought some of you might be interested in this article from
today's Time on-line

Building the Next Internet
Who knew there was a sequel? The Abilene Project is a prototype of the
Internet of the future

Two days ago there was one Internet. Now there are two. Yesterday
morning a consortium of more than a hundred corporations and research
universities threw the switch on the Abilene Project, a network of
10,000 miles of fiber optic cable that will serve as the prototype for
the high-performance, no-waiting Internet of the future.

The Abilene Project -- which is part of the bigger, better-known
Internet2 initiative -- is named after a major railhead built in
Abilene, Kansas, in the 1860s. You can see the point of the analogy:
The same way railroads opened up the western United States,
superseding those low-tech cattle trails, this new high-tech network
will supersede the laggy and unstable Internet that exists today. The
present Internet was built on a network of wires that were designed
only to carry voice communications -- telephones. Full-motion video
takes a lot more bandwidth. The Abilene Project runs at 2.4 gigabits
per second -- about 90,000 times faster than your humble 28.8 kbps
modem). Initially, the 50-odd universities connected by this
super-deluxe new Internet will use it for research applications -- for
example, pooling separate databases that exist in remote locations, or
transmitting high-quality real-time video, or experimenting with
tele-medicine. Great, you might say, but when do the rest of us get to
play with it? After all, Internet2 relies in part on grants from the
federal Next Generation Internet Initiative (NGI). Those are taxpayer

Here's how it works. In addition to any federal money Internet2
receives, high-tech companies such as Cisco, Qwest, and Nortel have
poured around $500 million development dollars into it over the past
three years. Greg Wood, director of communications for the University
Corporation for Advanced Internet Development, which oversees the
Internet2 project, explains that because commercial networks (meaning
the Internet an average user sees) are "all about rock-solid
stability," these companies can't afford to experiment with new
technology. New technology tends to be buggy. The Abilene Project
gives those companies a network they can play around with, where they
can make mistakes and learn from them. "When Cisco gets around to
building its next-generation routers, they'll build into them what
we've learned from Abilene." That's when the rest of us will get to
see the next-generation Internet: Not all at once, but gradually,
piece by piece, router by router, cable by cable..

This all might seem a little ho-hum for those few who already get
superfast Internet connections via cable-modem services like @Home;
there are also private companies out there, such as Digital Island,
that offer corporate customers access to super-premium "Overnet"
services -- extra-fast, extra-stable connections to countries that
don't have highly developed infrastructures. The competition to lay
the information infrastructure of the future is a tight one, with more
than one solution fighting for dominance. Who cares? Let `em fight it
out. As long as "Dilbert" loads faster, the rest of us will be happy

Wayne P. Pferdehirt, P.E., AICP
Director, Master of Engineering in Professional Practice Program
Specialist, Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center
University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension
610 Langdon Street, Room 532, Madison, WI 53703-1195
Phone: 608/265-2361 Fax: 608/262-6250



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