IBM next quarter plans to bring high-quality streaming video to enterprises over the Internet using a prototype network.
The network, which is code-named the QBone, will utilise IP Multicast technology for efficient use of bandwidth, as well as the emerging Differentiated Services (DiffServ) protocol for prioritisation of traffic.
An IBM executive said the prototype will go a step beyond the MBone, a subset of the Internet that is set up to handle IP Multicast traffic, by adding prioritisation of data traffic.
IP Multicast allows the sources of video, voice, or other data to send a single stream of information to multiple receivers rather than flooding the network or sending multiple streams.
"The MBone has no priority scheme, so it is contending with other traffic for priority bandwidth," said John Patrick, vice president of Internet technology at IBM.
The combination of IP Multicast and traffic prioritisation will be critical for providing video over the Internet in the future, Patrick said. The technologies will allow for applications such as long-distance education, live viewing of medical magnetic resonance imaging from a distance, and real-time collaboration between geographically dispersed business executives. Current IP video solutions are inadequate for such applications, he said.
"These are [situations] where a 1in video window with high packet loss doesn't make it," Patrick said. "To make these more critical applications real, we have to beef up the Internet."
The QBone, to be used by participating enterprise customers in the Chicago area, will be a test bed for technology that may be carried on to Internet II, a planned high-speed research network to be built alongside the current Internet. From Internet II, in turn, the technologies can be carried on to the Internet at large.
One user now working to implement IP Multicast inside an enterprise said that in his concerns about doing IP Multicast over the Internet, quality of service takes a backseat to security.
"In my view, there needs to be a lot of work done in the security area of multicast," said Stephen Houdek, a network specialist at Ford, in Michigan.
Analysts said the capabilities of the QBone eventually will be valuable additions to service providers' offerings. But a great deal of work lies between this type of test and actual deployment, they added.
"It's nice to know you can do this, but there's a lot more you need to do before it's real," said Deb Mielke, an analyst at Treillage Network Strategies. For example, billing and accounting are the hardest parts of the system to perfect, she said.
"Carrier back offices aren't set up to deliver this," Mielke said.
One element of the QBone that is nearing availability as a standard is the DiffServ standard. The Internet Engineering Task Force is expected to ratify it later this year.
Test networks drive Internet forward
* MBone: A group of research facilities that use IP Multicast over the Internet* QBone: A Chicago-area network being built with IP Multicast and traffic-priority features* Internet II: A high-speed next-generation Internet to be built by universities and other research facilities