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Flying the 'Net First Class

While discussions of how to relieve Internet congestion and build a better business model for Internet service providers (ISPs) are common, attendees at the recent Etre Conference in Hungary debated a relatively novel approach: different Internets for different classes of customers.

One of the most vocal proponents of this approach is Eric Benhamou, president and chief executive officer of 3Com Corp., a leading provider of the routers and switches that hold the Internet together.

What Benhamou and others would like to see are multiple Internet "cores" supporting various levels of service--in his phrase, different "policies"--like an airliner with first class, business class, and coach seats rather than today's no-reserved-seating network. Rather than paying extra for better food and more legroom, users would pay higher access fees for features such as
enhanced security or greater bandwidth.

Benhamou stresses this would not be a splintering of the Internet so much as a different approach for building future high-quality networks suitable for demanding enterprise applications. Indeed, he suggests that the segregated network be built not necessarily atop the existing Internet, but on a separate layer.

When you accessed the Internet, your data traffic would be routed onto one backbone or another based on the service level you request. "It's like long-distance service," explains Benhamou. "You could specify which backbone to use."

Since an organization's needs for service vary depending on its current reason for using the Net, customers could switch among a number of backbone providers. Voice-mail messages and videoconferencing sessions, for example, could call for high latency and high bandwidth, respectively. Similarly, a firm's
payroll department might access a high-priority backbone during processing, only to drop back down after month's end.

For this idea to succeed, a great deal of inter-industry cooperation will be required. "We have to agree as an industry how to build policy into network infrastructures,". Benhamou says, "so the telecommunications and network industries must come together. We have to agree on how to build policy-based infrastructures that cut across the public/private boundary."

Nevertheless, Benhamou says, many of the plan's elements could come together by mid-1998, and some progress has already started. At last October's NetWorld+Interop show, Siemens, Newbridge Networks, and 3Com announced a standards-based architecture called Carrier Scale Internetworking (CSI), which will enable carriers to offer agreements to enterprises defining consolidated, managed services for connecting different types of users with varying classes of services.

By the time you read this, the first implementations of CSI should be available for the Siemens/Newbridge network family of products. And 3Com plans to implement CSI capabilities into its WAN access and service provider point-of-presence products.

hough the idea of forcing users to shell out extra bucks for higher-class Internet access may seem unsettling to some, the potential gains in efficiency and productivity might be worth it. Like most things, Benhamou declares, "You get what you pay for."

by Kathy Yakal, January 1998

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