The Routing Arbiter Project

The U.S. networking infrastructure underwent rapid dramatic change after the retirement of the NSFNET Backbone Service in April 1995. The nation's research and education community, once linked by a single, high-speed backbone funded by the National Science Foundation, was now interconnected via a diverse set of commercial network service providers. The Internet, once accessed mainly by scientists and researchers at colleges, government organizations, and corporate research facilities, became an everyday part of life for millions of Americans, and a dominant force in the American economy.

The new NSFNET network architecture was detailed in the National Science Foundation's follow-on solicitation, released in 1993: Network Access Point Manager, Routing Arbiter, Regional Network Providers, and Very High Speed Backbone Network Services Provider for NSFNET and the NREN Program. Early in 1994, awards for building the new architecture were given to Merit and the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute for the Routing Arbiter, to MCI for the vBNS, and to three providers for the Network Access Points: Sprint, MFS Datanet, and Bellcore, representing Ameritech and PacBell.

The new infrastructure was composed of multiple backbones serving hundreds of Internet Service Providers across the U.S. The routing environment was complex and changed rapidly, requiring innovative technologies that can be quickly modified to adapt to new conditions. Merit and ISI were charged by the National Science Foundation with the task of facilitating and enhancing routing information exchange worldwide. The Routing Arbiter's major products — the Route Servers and the Routing Arbiter Database — were designed for the new environment and served a steadily increasing number of providers and network operators.

Three services that originated as part of the RA project were subsequently supported as independent activities:
  • In January 1997, following NSF's recommendation that Route Server services be shifted to the commercial marketplace, Merit launched the new Route Server Next Generation (RSNG) project, which made it possible for exchange point operators to purchase Route Server services from Merit in support of customer peering. NSF suggested the move to commercialization in August 1996 after its 24-month review of the RA project, noting the importance of the Routing Arbiter in the smooth transition from the NSFNET to the competive Internet market.

  • Following NSF's recommendation that statistical research and tool development be pursued separately from the Routing Arbiter activity, a proposal was submitted to NSF for support for a new Internet Performance Measurement and Analysis project. In fall 1997, Merit received a $1.6 million award from the National Science Foundation in support of the project, a joint effort between Merit and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan's College of Engineering.

  • NANOG, the North American Network Operators Group, was supported by NSF during both the NSFNET project and the early years of the Routing Arbiter project. NANOG is now funded independently through attendee registration fees.

Other key activities continued to be supported by the National Science Foundation throughout the Routing Arbiter project. These included:
  • The RADb, IRRd, RAToolSet (now known as the IRRToolSet and maintained by ISC), and other tools designed for the RADB and the Internet Routing Registry.

  • Routing Policy Specification Language (RPSL), the suite of tools and routing software for analyzing, visualizing, and realizing provider policies. Leading-edge routing research from Merit and ISI.

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