Past Research Projects
For over 45 years, Merit has been at the forefront of network research. Merit staff have participated in the development and research of routing standards, network protocols, network topology visualization, and network measurement tools.

Significant Past Projects Include:

The NSFNET Backbone Service
From 1987 until April 1995, Merit managed and re-engineered the NSFNET Backbone Service project in partnership with the National Science Foundation, ANS, IBM, MCI, and the State of Michigan.

NFSNET backbone
Part of NSF’s ongoing high-speed computing and communications infrastructure initiatives, the NSFNET program from its inception was the foundation of the U.S. Internet and the main catalyst for the explosion in computer networking around the world that followed. The NSFNET backbone service, the basis of the larger NSFNET program, linked scientists and educators located on university campuses in the United States to each other and to their counterparts located in universities, laboratories, and research centers all over the world.

The partnership of academia, industry, and government that built the NSFNET backbone service also pioneered a model of technology transfer. From 217 networks connected in July of 1988 to more than 50,000 in April of 1995 when the NSFNET backbone service was retired, the NSFNET’s exponential growth stimulated the expansion of the worldwide Internet and provided a dynamic environment for the development of new communications technologies.

As we continue to address the challenge of national and global information infrastructure—the next generation of communications infrastructure—we are fortunate to be guided by the example set by the NSFNET in its successful partnership for high-speed networking.

Internet Performance Measurement and Analysis (IPMA)
The pioneering Internet Performance Measurement and Analysis (IPMA) project, a joint effort of the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Merit Network, helped lay the foundation for data collection and statistical analysis in the Internet. The three-year project was launched by a a $1.6 million award from the National Science Foundation, following NSF’s recommendation that Merit pursue statistical research and tool development separately from the Routing Arbiter activity.

The IPMA project focused on two primary areas of Internet statistics: routing stability, topology, and visualization; and ISP performance measurements. The overall goal of the project was to develop tools and perform statistical research that promote the stability and rational growth of the Internet.

The IPMA tools were easily configurable, so that users could quickly generate exactly the kinds of network performance data they need. The IPMA project worked closely with the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) and the National Laboratory for Applied Network Research (NLANR) to create a shared measurement infrastructure for the U.S. Internet. Hewlett-Packard and Intel Corporation also funded portions of the project.

One of the major outcomes of the project was a study of the backbone routing information at the major U.S. public Internet exchange points. IPMA staff discovered several unexpected trends in routing instability, and examined a number of anomalies and pathologies observed in the exchange of inter-domain routing information. The researchers showed that the volume of routing updates was several orders of magnitude more than expected, and the majority of this routing information was shown to be erroneous. Furthermore, the analysis revealed several unexpected trends and ill-behaved systematic properties in Internet routing.

NFSNET backbone

North American Network Operators’ Group (NANOG)
From 1994 to 2010, Merit Network coordinated and managed the activities of the North American Network Operators’ Group. NANOG evolved from the “Regional-Techs” meetings that were part of the Merit-led NSFNET project, at which technical staff from the regional networks met to discuss operational issues of common concern with Merit’s network engineering staff. At the February 1994 Regional-Techs meeting in San Diego, the group revised its charter to include a broader base of network service providers, and subsequently adopted NANOG as its new name.

Funding for NANOG originally came from the National Science Foundation, as part of two projects Merit undertook in partnership with NSF and other organizations: the NSFNET Backbone Service and the Routing Arbiter project. Subsequent meetings and NANOG activities were funded through meeting revenues. NANOG meetings provide a forum for the exchange of technical information, and promote discussion of implementation issues that require community cooperation. Coordination among network service providers helps ensure the stability of overall service to network users.

In February 2011, management of NANOG was transitioned to NewNOG, Inc., a non-profit organization organized by members of the NANOG community.

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.

Route Server Next Generation (RSNG) Project
• 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.

Internet Performance Measurement and Analysis Project
• 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.

North American Network Operators Group
• 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.

Route Coordination at Network Access Points
Launched in 1997, Merit’s “Route Server Next Generation” (RSng) project (1997-2003) was one of the successful follow-on projects to the NSFNET backbone service. This commercial venture provided for continued operation of the Route Servers, which were developed as part of the NSF-funded Routing Arbiter project.

Installed in pairs at each of the Network Access Points (NAPs, now known as Internet Exchange Points), the Route Servers were centralized computers that coordinated routing at the NAPs. The Route Servers freed up significant amounts of processing time for ISP routers at the exchanges, providing a considerable boost in throughput for each peer router. The Route Servers were configured using routing policy definitions from the Internet Routing Registry.

Route Server operations at the Network Access Points were supported by the National Science Foundation until January 1, 1997. NSF made the decision to commercialize Route Server and Network Access Point operations following the 24-month review of the Routing Arbiter and the four NAP projects in July 1996. NSF noted that all these projects had completed their basic missions ahead of schedule, and stated that the Routing Arbiter and the NAPs “have now proven that multiple network providers can work together in a competitive marketplace, and so can be scheduled for transition to commercial operations themselves.”