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BOX 1 Merit Notification of the Cessation of NSFNET Statistics Collection

NSFNET performance statistics have been collected, processed, stored, and reported by the Merit Network since 1988, in the early stages of the NSFNET project. During December 1994, the numbers contained in Merit's statistical reports began to decrease, as NSFNET traffic began to migrate to the new NSF network architecture.

In the new architecture, traffic is exchanged at interconnection points called network access points (NAPs). Each NAP provides a neutral interconnection point for U.S.-based and international network service providers. Once the new architecture is in place, Merit will be unable to collect the data needed to continue these traffic-based reports. The reports will be discontinued by spring 1995.

SOURCE: NIC.MERIT.EDU/nsfnet/statistics/READ.ME, January 9, 1995.

As the NSFNET era comes to a close, we will no longer be able to rely on what was the only set of publicly available statistics for a large national U.S. backbone (Box 1). The transition to the new NSFNET program, with commercially operated services providing both regional service as well as cross-service provider network switching points (NSPs), will render statistics collection a much more difficult task. There are several dimensions of the problem, each with a cost-benefit tradeoff. We examine them in turn.

Dimension of the Problem

Contractual and Logistical Issues

In the cooperative agreement with the NAPs, the National Science Foundation has made a fairly vague request for statistics reporting. As with the NSFNET program, NSF was not in a position to specify in detail what statistics the network manager should collect since NSF did not know as much about the technology as the providers themselves did. The situation is similar with other emerging network service providers, whose understanding of the technology and what statistics collection is possible is likely to exceed that of NSF. The NAPs and NSPs, however, at least in early 1995, were having enough of a challenge in getting and keeping their infrastructure operational; statistics have not been a top priority. Nor do the NAPs really have a good sense of what to collect, as all of the new technology involved is quite new to them as well.

A concern is that the NAPs will likely wait for more specific requirements from NSF, while NSF waits for them to develop models on their own. Scheduled meetings of community interest groups (e.g., NANOG, IEPG, FEPG, EOWG, Farnet)3 that might develop statistics standards have hardly enough time for more critical items on the agenda, e.g., switch testing and instability of routing. The issue is not whether traffic analysis would help, even with equipment and routing problems, but that traffic analysis is perceived as a secondary issue, and there is no real mechanism (or spare time) for collaborative development of an acceptable model.

Cost-benefit tradeoff: fulfill the deliverables of the cooperative agreement with NSF, at the least cost in terms of time and effort taken away from more critical engineering and customer service activities.

Academic and Fiscal Issues

Many emerging Internet services are offered by companies whose primary business thus far has been telecommunications rather than Internet protocol (IP) connectivity. The NAP providers (as well as the vBNS provider) are good examples. Traditionally phone companies, they find themselves accustomed to having reasonable tools to model telephony workload and performance (e.g., Erlang distributions). Unfortunately, the literature in Internet traffic characterization, both in the analytical and performance measurement domains, indicates that wide-area networking technology has advanced at a far faster rate than has the analytical and theoretical understanding of Internet traffic behavior.

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