National Science Foundation Network

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The National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) was a forerunner to and later a major part of today's Internet backbone from 1986 to 1995.



Following the deployment of the CSNET, a network that linked academic computer science departments, in 1981, the NSF aimed to create an open network allowing academic researchers access to supercomputers.

NSF brought in Dennis Jennings in 1985 to establish the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET). Jennings decided that NSFNET would be a general-purpose research network, it would be a hub to connect regional networks at supercomputing sites, and that it would make use of the ARPANET's very successful TCP/IP protocol. In 1985, the NSF began funding the creation of five new supercomputer centers: the John von Neumann Center at Princeton University, the San Diego Supercomputer Center on the campus of the University of California, San Diego, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Cornell Theory Center at Cornell University and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. The NSFNET connected these five centers along with the NSF-funded National Center for Atmospheric Research, providing access to their supercomputers over the network at no cost.

The NSFNET went online in 1986, using a TCP/IP-based protocol that was compatible with ARPANET, as a backbone to which regional and academic networks would connect. The six backbone sites were interconnected with leased 56 kbit/s links built by a group including the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), Cornell University Theory Center, University of Delaware, and Merit Network. PDP-11 minicomputers with routing and management software - called Fuzzballs - served as the network routers since they already implemented the TCP/IP standard. As regional networks began to grow the NSFNET backbone experienced exponential growth in its network traffic. As a result of a November 1987 NSF award to the Merit Network, a consortium of public universities in Michigan, the original 56 kbit/s links were upgraded to 1.5 Mbit/s (T1) by July 1988 and to 45 Mbit/s (T3) in 1991.

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