Looking Ahead, Moving Forward: Internet2 Network Services’ Commitments in 2021 and Beyond

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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

By Robert Vietzke, Internet2 Vice President, Network Services

With an unexpected 2020 behind us, the Internet2 Network Services team is focused on 2021 objectives that deliver on the Next Generation Infrastructure (NGI) program: the completion of an upgraded research and education (R&E) network infrastructure with a substantially upgraded capacity that is programmable and scalable.

This multiyear program has always had 5 goals:

N-NGI logo
  • Supporting the data-intensive researcher
  • Enabling data movement to the cloud
  • Software enabling infrastructure
  • Working across the community on edge-to-edge solutions
  • Driving down operating costs to allow reinvestment and to close budget gaps

From supporting the data intensive researcher to enabling data movement to the cloud, we are on track to deliver these enhancements while ensuring a greener carbon footprint and driving down our operating costs. We are cautiously optimistic that we are tracking toward most major deliverables in spite of continuing pandemic risks.

2021 also marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Internet2. As we celebrate this milestone and all the work with community partners to solve problems throughout our past, we are equally excited to turn toward the future with you to support the rapid evolution of services that the new software layer can enable.

Looking back at 2020

Our amazing staff and community teams stuck together and stayed on track delivering enormous value throughout an unpredictable year. Community partners and staff displayed extraordinary patience, resilience, flexibility, and dedication to the research and education (R&E) mission during these past 12 months. For years to come, we can share stories about how the R&E community’s member-centric services, active coalitions, and abundant capacity put us in a unique position to fill changing needs during this extraordinary year. Together, we adapted to the changing patterns of the pandemic and continued delivering on program objectives at a time when we could not gather in traditional ways.

Year over year network total traffic carried sorted by month
Internet2 year to year petabytes carried by day

A few highlights of 2020 accomplishments include:

Our NGI program transition objectives for 2021

The next six months promise to be an exciting and busy time for the Internet2 community. The new NGI packet platform is already rolling out across the country and by mid-year, the infrastructure, new service model, and new capabilities should be available broadly to the Internet2 Connectors and our joint members.

As I write this note, Lumen is completing the bulk of the optical network upgrade with Ciena 6500 flexgrid kits and expects to complete 75 out of 81 network paths by late February. At the same time, GDT has four teams in the field installing our new packet nodes (Cisco 8200 routers, new perfSONAR and management nodes) and, barring delays, expects to complete all 48 sites at the end of March.

Our internal teams are continuing development of the software required to deploy and operate the network. And finally, our business team is working on updating the connector agreement schedule related to the new platform fee.

These four workstreams come together in a two-stage final review process in March and May that will precede final decisions about transition timing on to the new network. Our plan currently targets moving connectors on to the new network in the June/July+ timeframe, assuming the remaining deliverables and impacts of the pandemic continue to track.

Internet2 Optical Network Progress as of Feb. 12, 2021. Red indicates completed segments. Nationwide E-W (dotted) connectivity due by the end of February 2021
NGI packet progress
Internet2 Packet Network Progress as of Feb. 12, 2021. Red indicates completed node installations. Remaining nodes are due to installed by end of March 2021.

Beyond NGI program transition: new services and new ways to solve member problems, together

While we expect the NGI program transition and subsequent decommissioning of the current network to consume most of our resource pool in 2021, we are also looking towards critical opportunities at the start of the next era. Many of these are unfinished promises from the NGI program:

Cloud Connect 2.0 – Our cloud connect offering, allowing connectors to quickly establish private L2 and L3 networks to Amazon, Microsoft, and Google cloud has been popular and continues to see community-wide adoption. This year we are gathering requirements for the next set of incremental upgrades and seek broad input on features that can continue to increase the value of Cloud Connect. We’ll be moving to a DevOps model for this and other software products and expect continuous evolution between occasional major releases. Contact network_development@internet2.edu with suggestions or to discuss feature requests.

Identity and Access Management Tooling – We are excited about opportunities to blend InCommon Trusted Access Platform capabilities with the network offerings. Millions of US educators use InCommon federation-optimized identity and access management software. InCommon’s group management tools will allow network operators to create and manage workgroups for cloud connect, telemetry, and network support. Moving to these new capabilities increases our ability to more flexibly build, manage, and delegate services to our users as dynamic workgroups emerge and dissolve. While many connectors who are affiliated with a university system already have access to the necessary identity provider (IdP) infrastructure to enable these capabilities, we will also be developing resources for network connectors who do not have their own IdP to fully participate.

Security Improvements – We continue to work in parallel to help the R&E community enhance its network security; improve our security offerings like DDoS protection; and strengthen the Internet2 infrastructure and supporting software. There are projects being planned in all of these areas in 2021. We continue to believe that we must operate our R&E networks with the highest reliability and capacity, continue our tradition as transparent operators, and continuously focus on security improvements. Together, this approach differentiates R&E networks and builds confidence in our role in the ecosystem.

Edge to Edge Services – As the new infrastructure and supporting software layer that underpins configuration management comes online, we are looking to begin a pilot with one or more regional networks, as well as campuses, to provide an example of true integrated service delivery via software across our organizational boundaries. There is great promise to simplify and accelerate community service delivery workflows and to improve our members’ experiences, not only with provisioning, but also with telemetry, alarming, and other operational and lifecycle activities. As Internet2 moves past its own physical network transition this year, we hope to begin building some of the first prototypes and roadmaps for this service. If you are interested in being part of the pilot, we’d love to hear from you at network_development@internet2.edu.

Research Support – As Internet2 expands its broad support for the Research Engagement Program under the leadership of Dana Brunson, Network Services is also working with the NAOPpag early in 2021 to more effectively define support for network-related research. Initial plans include being more explicit about the kinds of support we can provide generally, as well as specific areas of research that would support current network interest areas.

New Platform Model – To support the roll out of the new 2x100G and 2x400G upgrades for connectors, we are also looking at updates to the connector agreement. Some of those updates focus on capacity improvements, but we are also beginning to consider how to document security, operational, and other expectations as we move from the port model to the broader platform model. This effort should provide even greater surety to the R&E community about the great progress Internet2 and its connector partners are making in delivering a truly world-class, edge-to-edge infrastructure for US research and education users.

Taken together, these activities mean that in spite of the pandemic and other pressures, 2021 is already shaping up to be a busy year full of progress and promise for the R&E community. We are eager to work with all of you on these efforts in 2021 and beyond!