50 years of the Internet: The contribution of RNP to the birth of the Internet in Brazil

- 16/12/2019

On October 29th, we celebrated 50 years since the creation of the Internet. The date is a reference to the beginning of operations of the Arpanet, a project led by researchers from universities in the United States. In only a few years, this network has evolved to the Internet as we know it today and that we have learned to love, tolerate or hate. We should recognize that it has come to change our world radically. But the purpose here is to call attention to contributions made by Brazilians in bringing this technology to this country, after the launch of Rede Nacional de Pesquisa (RNP) – National Research Network as a project of the federal government, in September of 1989, that is, 30 years ago.

The RNP project was created to address demands of Brazilian researchers that sought greater interaction and collaboration with national and international partners. They wanted to use their computers to send messages and share texts, programs and scientific data, in the same way that their peers were doing in other countries through the use of Internet technology.

Based on this need, a project was launched to create a communications network infrastructure in Brazil, which could interconnect the workplaces of teachers, researchers and students in higher education and research institutions. Today, this research and education (R&E) network infrastructure has grown to connect more than 1500 sites throughout the country.

A short history

Today’s Internet is much more than just the networks that served the R&E community, its first users. As in the USA, the Internet in Brazil initially connected only universities and research institutions. Some years later, the first commercial networks began to appear, for the use of the general population. Shortly after the launch by the RNP project in 1992 of the first network in Brazil with Internet technology, public demand for access to a similar service resulted in the establishment of commercial providers, in order to satisfy this need.

At first, the RNP project was used to leverage the commercial Internet by routing commercial traffic through its network and its international connections. This phase lasted from 1995 to 1998. When the commercial Internet was considered robust enough, RNP returned to its origins, dedicating itself to the R&E community.

After 1998, the RNP project was succeeded by the establishment of a non-profit organization, also known as RNP, which in 2002 adhered to the new model of Social Organization (OS), where a government can provide services to the community through a long-term management contract with a non-profit entity. In the decade of 2000, the focus of RNP was to increase the capacity of the academic network, now renamed the Ipê network, which increased from dozens of Megabits per second (Mb/s) to 10 Gigabits per second (Gb/s). At the same time, the construction and operation began of its own optical metropolitan networks in the national capital and the 26 state capitals and also in 14 other non-capital cities, which solved the issue of urban access to the Point of Presence (PoP) of the Ipê Network – the so-called last mile problem. New international connections were also created, to connected the Ipê network to North-American R&E networks (Internet2 and ESnet) and to other Latin America countries, through the Latin American RedCLARA network, which also provided a direct connection to Europe.

Since 2010, RNP has been evolving on many fronts. In terms of access networks, the Veredas Novas initiative has increased the capacity of connections to user sites located in smaller cities. The number of connections has also increased. 1500 user sites were reached in 2019, including 400 in cities with metropolitan networks. New computational and storage services are being offered to our clients through the Internet Data Center (IDC) in Brasília and Shared Data Centers (CDC) in Recife and Manaus. The Ipê network has also increased the capacity of its connections, mainly in the North region.

The future is elastic

On the threshold of 2020, the main innovation is the new generation of the Ipê network in partnership with companies with their own optical fiber infrastructure, usually along electric energy transmission lines. In these collaborations, RNP usually enters with optical transmission equipment and the resulting transmission capacity is shared between the partners. This approach facilitates the gradual increase of transmission capacity, usually in multiples of 100 Gb/s, which can be described as elastic.

 “It is RNP’s aim to provide elastic capacity along the main routes required to provide connectivity to state capitals.”

A similar approach is also being used for international connections, where RNP will share elastic capacity with partner academic networks in other countries and continents. The plan is to install a large R&E network with elastic capacity in South America, linked by elastic capacity intercontinental connections, by way of modern submarine cables, such as Monet to the USA and Ellalink to Europe. The expected duration of these partnerships varies between 10 and 25 years.

Over the last 50 years we have evolved from large computers (“mainframes”) to smartphones, pocket device with access to an increasing number of digital services. This change also affects the R&E environment. However, evolution in R&E also creates new demands in the digital environment, such as the importance of databases that are collected or generated by researchers to be used by their students and general public.

Traditionally, the computational infrastructure to provide support these activities were the responsibility of the professional involved, and possibly their department or institution. With the availability of cloud computing, it is now possible to centralize this service, either within the institution, such as was the recent case at USP (University of São Paulo), or outside, through a commercial cloud service provider. To make this change more accessible, RNP can act as a broker in cloud service contracts for its clients.

These are only some indications of the future role of RNP as a digital platform for education, research, and innovation. What can we expect from the next 50 years of the Internet?

Michael Stanton
Network Scientist at RNP and member of the Internet Hall of Fame