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MAKING IT BETTER: EXPANDING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH TO MEET SOCIETY'S NEEDS
ate new approaches for improving security, quality of service, and network management. But even then, only “stable” technologies are to be deployed so that the network can also be used to demonstrate new, high-end applications (LSN Next Generation Implementation Team, 1998).
The Internet 2 and Abilene networks being deployed by the private sector have similar intentions. In the early and mid-1990s, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives organized the creation of a set of five testbeds to demonstrate high-speed networking technologies, systems, and applications. Participants came from industry, government, and academia, and each testbed was a relatively large research project. Many lessons were learned about the difficulties involved in implementing very high speed (1 Gbps) networks and very high speed networking applications on an end-to-end basis. Lessons learned from these testbeds have been, and continue to be, incorporated into current and emerging computers and networks. Because these testbeds brought together interdisciplinary teams and addressed complex end-to-end system issues, they were representative of the research in large-scale systems that this chapter describes; however, because the testbeds were operational over large geographical areas (spanning hundreds of miles), a large share of the effort and cost was associated with the construction and operation of the physical infrastructure rather than the research itself. With the benefit of hindsight, it might have been possible to achieve a better balance to ensure that building, maintaining, and operating a research testbed did not inadvertently become the principal objective, as opposed to gaining research insights. Yet this tension between funding for infrastructure, per se, and funding for the research that uses it continues to haunt federally funded networking research.
Existing infrastructure programs have a critical limitation with respect to the kind of research envisioned in this report: they help investigators in universities and government laboratories routinely access dedicated computers and networks used for scientific research or related technical work, but they do not provide researchers with access to experimental or operational large-scale systems used for purposes other than science—computers and networks used for everything from government functions (tax processing, benefits processing) through critical infrastructure management (air traffic control, power system management) to a wide range of business and e-commerce application systems. Given the problems experienced with large-scale IT systems, gaining some kind of access is important. Even indirect access in the form of data about system performance and other attributes could be valuable.45 Instrumenting operational systems to collect needed data on their operations and allowing researchers to observe their operation in an active environment would greatly benefit research. Figuring out what is possible, with what kinds