Shaping the priorities of Internet2

Its new network operations manager is excited about Dynamic Circuit Network, multicast and IPv6.

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You might think the network you oversee is big, but consider Chris Robb's new job: network operations manager for Internet2, which in October announced completion of a new research and education network boasting initial capacity of 100Gbit/s nation-wide. Robb takes on his new position as an assigned staff member from the Global Research Network Operations Centre (GRNOC) at Indiana University, and will be based in Indiana. We interviewed him by email to get an idea of what lies ahead for him and Internet2.

You'll be responsible for day-to-day operations of the US-wide Internet2 Network infrastructure. That sounds daunting. Give me a sense of what sorts of network gear you are actually responsible for and what you expect to be doing day to day.

The new Internet2 Network is really an evolution from Internet2's former Abilene IP network which was officially decommissioned in Fall 2007 when we completed the build-out of a completely different nation-wide infrastructure in partnership with Level 3 Communications. The new network is what we call a 'hybrid.' Originally envisioned by the research and education advanced networking community, hybrid networks combine the best of IP and optical networking and allow users to dynamically set up circuits as their applications demand.

On the IP network, members connect via distinct optical wavelengths, deterministic SONET-based 'light-paths,' or via the common-bearer IP service. We continue to use the Juniper T640 platform to provide IP services. They've provided rock solid performance with expansion room to help us support other IP-based services like our new Commodity Peering Service.

The optical network, which is built on the Infinera Digital Transport Chassis, is unique in its management model. Level 3 has responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of the optical equipment (replacing cards, monitoring Layer 1 network health), but Internet2 has direct control over provisioning circuits across the network via our Network Operations Centre. This allows the NOC to focus on our core mission of controlling and maintaining the network.

The Dynamic Circuit Network is still in its infancy. The overall idea is that a user can request an end-to-end circuit between two points on the network, and plumb a path that's unique to their project.

Because this is a new technical platform as well as a brand new way of operating a network, it has required some new thinking by our NOC in terms of monitoring and co-ordination. It's no longer the case that you can always just troubleshoot just your piece of the network cloud. Because each circuit can cross multiple network provider domains, much more metadata and co-ordination is required in resolving network issues from end to end.

Today, setting up large inter-domain circuits can be very labour intensive with co-ordination across multiple providers, across countries. One of our immediate goals is to implement an automated system that creates all the monitoring hooks that are needed for network operators to troubleshoot in minutes or less. It's a challenging task, but certainly one that has a lot of eyes on it right now.

Can you elaborate on the Dynamic Circuit Network and IP network?

The Dynamic Circuit Network is a circuit-based network cloud that is directly driven by our users. The closest analogy is the phone system. We provide the transport and the tools to make a "phone call" (ie. create the dedicated circuit connection) without the day-to-day assistance of a network engineer. In the future, through the use of a new web-based interface, users will be able to reserve their bandwidth for a set period of time, transfer their data using their protocol of choice, and then "hang-up" the circuit for the next researcher to use.

It's a Ciena CoreDirector-based network, so the underlying transport is SONET. Our demarcation to domestic users is vanilla Ethernet, so it meshes well with most current campus networks. Simply plumb a VLAN to the edge of your network, where you meet the Dynamic Circuit Network, and initiate the circuit.

We're rolling this out in 2008 at no additional cost to our users for the next year, so we can seek input and feedback on the process. Because of the collaborative nature of the service, we can't do this in a vacuum, so we're actively seeking out collaborators and researchers that want to participate.

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