1 Commercial Uses of the Internet Nathan J. Muller Payoff The Internet is a global, cooperative collection of approximately 5,000 networks spanning 110 countries and linking over 600,000 hosts, ranging from IBM PCs to Cray supercomputers. Currently, there are almost 15 million users of the Internet. Several terabytes of information move over the Internet each month, most of it in the form of electronic mail and file transfers. Many data bases are accessible over the Internet, including university library catalogs, news, software and technical archives, and simulations. The Internet also provides communications services, including electronic mail, conferencing, and bulletin boards. The Internet is accessible from anywhere in the world by any person or organization with a valid Internet address and connection. Introduction The Internet, once limited to nonprofit uses, is now accessible for commercial activities. Most companies connect to the Internet for its global communications capability and access to useful information. and file transfers are the most widespread applications, but companies also are using the Internet in support of such business operations as research and development, marketing and sales, and customer support. For these users, the Internet offers a wealth of technical information, data base services, and programs often at very low cost. Corporate subscribers can use the Internet to link remote sites and business partners for collaborative development, software support and distribution, and communications. Support staffs can remotely debug software, diagnose hardware problems, and administer LANs over Internet connections. Virtually every major software and hardware vendor is connected to the Internet, as are such commercial information services as Dialog, Mead Data, and Dow Jones News/Retrieval. Internet Resources The real lure of the Internet is the access it provides to the many resources that are available to users in virtually any field. The Internet has evolved to become the nation's largest electronic information exchange all without the promotional ploys that are commonly used today: slick advertising, software giveaways, and on-line contests. The following categories of information are accessible through the Internet: Indexes and abstracts. These provide pointers to information, for example, tables of contents for journals and books, newspaper headlines, article summaries. Full text. These are complete items, for example, a journal or newspaper article, an entire book, a technical or scientific report. Periodically generated cumulative information. This is information that is generated on an hourly, daily, or other basis such as news feeds, weather reports, stock quotes, magazine contents.
2 Periodically revised information. This might be airline schedules and ticket prices, product information, catalogs, directories. Reference information. Such resources as dictionaries, encyclopedias, legal references, company profiles, market studies. Data bases. Economic indexes, census data, scientific and technical information, patents, government regulations, international trade information. Holdings. Lists of items or collections held by public and private institutions. Postings. Publisher catalogs, press releases, product information, newsletters. Miscellaneous. Books, journals, music, multimedia works. Navigation Aids The sheer volume of information available over the Internet virtually requires the use of navigational tools to search and retrieve requested items. Some of these tools have been available for years and have recently been equipped with graphic front-ends to make them easier to use. Archie Archie is a client/server data base program that uses keyword searches to locate public domain and shareware programs, as well as files. Installed on the user's client PC or work station, Archie searches the Internet's more than 1,000 File Transfer Protocol (FTP) servers worldwide about 200G bytes of information. Basically, the user asks Archie to locate a program or file by name, and it responds with a list of all the hosts that have it, the appropriate directory and file name on each host, and when it was last updated. Wide-Area Information Server WAIS is a client/server system that is used to find, store, and retrieve information coded as text, image, voice, or formatted data from more than 80 Wide Area Information System servers that are dedicated to specific topics. The user supplies key words for a search and indicates the sources on which the search should be performed. Wide Area Information System uses natural-language questions to search for appropriate documents, regardless of platform. After a successful search routine elicits the information a user wants, the search can be run again automatically to obtain new information when it becomes available. Gopher Gopher is the most widely used searching tool on the Internet. It allows users to find information on more than 2,000 Gopher servers on the Internet. Searchers can use keywords or phrases. Businesses are using Gopher to do more than find information; they are setting up their own Gopher servers to create virtual storefronts. Novell, Inc., for example, uses Gopher to sell publications and programs. The Electronic Newsstand (EN) uses Gopher to sell subscriptions and single-issue copies of about 20 different publications, including The New Republic and The Economist. The Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX), a nonprofit trade association of 19 Internet
3 providers, is using Gopher for a new billboard service that will let businesses advertise online. When finished, Internet users will be able to search for products, services, specification sheets, and general product information about companies that advertise on the CIX Gopher. Hytelnet Hytelnet is a hypertext directory service for Telnet, which is a remote terminal protocol that is used to access thousands of data bases worldwide. Hytelnet helps users find the appropriate hosts and log-on names for library data bases. Mosaic Mosaic is a hypermedia-type browser user interface to the Internet. Hypermedia links let the user jump through pieces of information easily. Through hypertext buttons, the program can access documents containing audit, graphics, and video. Mosaic uses other publicly distributable and commercial applications to display graphic and media files in many formats, among them Graphics Interchange Format (GIF),Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG), Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG), PICT, postscript, QuickTime, TIFF, UNIX, and X Windows bit map. Internet Access Providers Until recently, the easiest way to gain access to the Internet was under the umbrella of a university or government agency. By signing up with one of these organizations at little or no cost a user could obtain an Internet address and log-on to the Internet. But over the years, as the emphasis of the Internet has broadened from research and government projects, network operators and service providers have become authorized to provide Internet access services. Anyone with a modem and PC can access the Internet for as little as $10 to $20 per month. Depending on the level of access the customer wants, existing on-line services (e.g., CompuServe) may offer sufficient connectivity. Likewise, service providers may offer a gateway to the Internet. Users of MCI Mail and AT&T's EasyLink, for example, can send electronic mail messages to any Internet address. However, these indirect methods of access do not support the real-time Internet applications. Occasional users may find this level of Internet access to be adequate, but heavy corporate users will typically need to plug into the Internet at speeds from 56K b/s to 1.544M b/s. Dedicated lines that provide these speeds can cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars per month, depending on the distance to the provider's Point Of Presence. Advanced Networks & Services, Inc. (ANS), for example, offers a variety of network services, including dedicated connections to the Internet over the National Science Foundation Network backbone. NSFNET, one of many Internet backbones in the US, is funded by the National Science Foundation. ANS customers include regional and state networks seeking gateways to NSFNET, as well as information providers and firms seeking access to university researchers or their data bases. Through a separate subsidiary ANS offers Internet connections for commercial traffic.
4 Access Methods There are several types of direct access to the Internet. One is a terminal connection that relies on a terminal (or terminal emulation package in a PC) that connects to an account on a computer on the Internet. A terminal connection supports only one session at a time. A network connection, in contrast, is capable of supporting several sessions concurrently, including remote log-ins, file transfers, and other activities. Terminal Access Terminal access gives the user on-demand access to the Internet on a dial-up basis. Public access Internet hosts (e.g., NetCom Inc.'s (San Francisco) and The World's (Brookline MA) make dial-up terminal connections through modems easy (Exhibit 1). Through these hosts, the full range of Internet services and resources is available, subject to access and use restrictions. Sometimes specific account codes are required to access certain services. Online help is available to assist new Internet users. The latest modem speeds are supported, including 14.4K b/s with V.32 b/s, and 19.2K b/s with compression. Selected Internet Hosts Offering Terminal Dial-up to an IP Host Network Contact Coverage Alternet 800-4UU-NET3 US and international Falls Church, VA DIGEX (Digital Baltimore, MD Express Group) Greenbelt, MD HOLONET (Information US and international Access Technologies, Inc.) Berkeley, CA NetCom, Inc San Francisco Bay Area San Jose, CA Panix (Public New York Access UNIX of New York) New York, NY Portal Communications US and international Cupertino, CA The World US (Software Tool & Die) Brookline, MA UKnet Britain, N. Ireland, Canterbury, England and international Note: sign is an Internet address convention, the function of which is to separate the user ID from the rest of the address. In the addresses above, "info" is used before sign to indicate that the purpose of the transmission is a request for information about the particular service.
5 An account for terminal access costs $1 to $4 per hour. Some systems have a minimum monthly charge. The World, for example has a fixed service charge of $20 per month and an access charge of $1 per hour. Long distance toll charges may apply if reaching the nearest Internet node involves a toll call. Network Access A network connection provides full-function access to the Internet. This is accomplished with a computer or LAN server running Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). In establishing a network-layer connection with the Internet, the computer or server can interact as a peer with other computers or servers on the Internet. TCP/IP software is included with most UNIX-based computer systems, but is also available separately for MS-DOS, Windows, Macintosh, and other systems. Users who run TCP/IP on their own computers can execute Telnet,File Transfer Protocol, Internet Relay Chat and other IP applications directly, instead of having to dial up the Internet as a terminal. Telnet is a terminal emulation facility that enables remote terminals to access different hosts by fooling an operating system into thinking that a remote terminal is locally connected. Most of the time Telnet operates in the Full-DupleX mode, sending and receiving at the same time. However, Telnet has a half-duplex mode to accommodate IBM hosts. In this case, a turnaround signal switches the sending of data to the other side of the connection. The file transfer protocol (FTP) is a rudimentary facility used for the bulk transfer of data ASCII, Extended Binary-Coded Decimal Interchange Code, and binary from one remote device to another. Sending a file using FTP to a user on another TCP/IP network requires a valid user ID and password for a host on that network. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a real-time version of a bulletin board system. It is a conferencing system that broadcasts the input of each on-line participant to all of the other participants who share the same interests and are turned in to the same topic or forum. The forums may be focused on current events, professional activities, or news sharing. Because the TCP/IP method of access provides users with a full IP connection, multiple sessions can be run concurrently. For example, it is possible to run two FTP, two Telnet, and an Internet relay chat (IRC) at the same time, with each session appearing in its own window. Another way to obtain an IP connection is through a public dial-up provider. However, in addition to supporting TCP/IP, the computer must also support an underlying protocol for communicating over the telephone line. In most cases, the TCP/IP software will include either the Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) or its predecessor, Serial-Line IP(SLIP). If an organization desires full-time, full function access to the Internet over leased line connections from its LAN or corporate backbone, there are Internet service providers that can supply them on a regional, national, or international basis. Internet Organization There are several organizational facets of the Internet, including topology, addressing, equipment and systems, facilities and services, and administration.
6 Topology The topology of the Internet is hierarchical (Exhibit 2), with the backbone networks at the top. The largest of these backbones is National Science Foundation Network, whose nodes are linked by T1 and T3 facilities. At the next level down in the hierarchy are the mid-level networks, which usually consist of a leased-line backbone that provides connectivity to a particular region. WESTNET (Exhibit 3), for example, provides connectivity between institutions located in a six-state region that includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The links between WESTNET locations are usually T1 or 56K-b/s leased lines. There are two T1 connections to the NSFNET backbone: one between the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB); the other between the University of Utah (UU) in Salt Lake City, and the NSFNET backbone. Hierarchical Organization of Internet Map of WESTNET Regional Network At the bottom of the hierarchy are networks belonging to particular institutions (e.g., universities, government agencies, and commercial firms). These networks typically connect to a regional network through bridges or routers and offer Internet access to individual computer users at their locations. At this level, the network topologies are quite diverse, ranging from Ethernets and Token Rings to a backbone FDDI ring with attached Ethernets and Token Rings. Addresses With several million users of the Internet, addressing can become quite complex. At the top of the address hierarchy is the domain, indicated by three- or two-character codes. Common three-character-code domains include commercial (.com), educational(.edu), governmental (.gov), and military (.mil). Of note is that nearly 60 percent of all registered domain names are now commercial organizations, with projected growth to 90 percent within the next two years. Only main nodes are shown. Nodes in Idaho that appear to be isolated are not; they interconnect with other WESTNET nodes through the NSFNET. Each level of the Domain Naming System has name assignment authority over the subordinate domains that it controls. Thus, the.com domain can cede authority to the General Dynamics (.gd) organization, for example;.gd, in turn, can cede authority to its operating units, which ultimately have control over individual hosts. Two-character country codes are also in the domain list. Examples include.hu (Hungary),.po (Poland),.jp (Japan),.au (Australia),.fi (Finland),.se (Sweden),.it (Italy), and.us (United States). Names on the Internet are formatted according to the following hierarchy of domains and sub-domains: machine.suborganization.organization.domain The Internet's Domain Name Service (DNS) maps host names to addresses. Requests for translations of host names into Internet addresses are sent to a domain name server. The server can respond with either the complete translation or with the name of another server
9 to contact for that information. The Internet addresses are translated into physical addresses, which may use alphanumeric characters and have semantic content (as opposed to the 32-bit Internet address). The Internet 32-bit addresses are administered by the Network Information Center (NIC) Internet Registry. If a locally administered network is not connected to the larger Internet, the address can be arbitrary. However, the use of arbitrary addresses is not recommended, because it can cause problems with later connections to the Internet. When the network manager wants to connect to other IP-based systems, such as NSFNET, all local addresses have to be assigned by the Internet Registry. There are three classes of Internet addresses, which can support networks of virtually any size: Class A addresses. The first byte ranges from 0 to 127 and represents the network number. The rest identify the host. This allows the address to support up to 128 networks, each with up to 16,777,216 hosts. Class B addresses. The first byte ranges from 128 to 191; the first two bytes represent the network number. The rest identify the host. This allows the address to support up to 16,384 networks, each with up to 65,536 hosts. Class C addresses. The first byte ranges from 192 to 223. The first three bytes represent the network number. The rest identify the host. This allows the address to support up to 2,000,000 networks, each with up to 256 hosts. Class A addresses are assigned to the largest networks (e.g., NFSNET and MILNET); Class C addresses are typically assigned to the LANs of college campuses and small government contractors. The NIC administers the network numbers only. Once a site is assigned a network number (Class A, B, or C, depending on the expected number of hosts at the site) it is then up to the site to determine how to allocate the addresses for its hosts. Determining Requirements Before contacting potential Internet service providers, it is useful to assess organizational needs so the right level and types of Internet access can be determined and the costs budgeted. One of the first considerations should be the purpose of Internet use. Users of some networks, such as NFSNET, are subject to the government's acceptable use policies, which prohibit commercial traffic. If commercial traffic is the purpose of Internet use, alternative means of access, such as that offered by ANS and other such firms, must be selected, which will entail higher monthly fees. Only traffic that supports open research and education in and among US research and instructional institutions is permitted on NFSNET. However, commercial firms may use NFSNET (and similar types of networks) for open scholarly communication and research. On the other hand, if connectivity is to be the main purpose of using the Internet, perhaps existing or bulletin board service (BBS) accounts will suffice, because they offer gateways to the Internet. Frequency of use should also be determined. If only occasional Internet access is needed, dial-up access may be the most economical. Exhibit 4 is a list (not complete) of regional networks offering dial-up IP access to the Internet. If frequent use of the Internet is desired, a full-time network connection should be considered. If a full-time network
10 connection is warranted, then the next decision that has to be made is the amount of bandwidth required, either a 56K b/s line or a T1 link offering 1.544M b/s. Selected Networks Providing Dial-up IP Access to the Internet Network Contact Coverage CERFnet Western US San Diego, CA CICnet Midwest US (MN, WI, Ann Arbor, MI IA, IN, IL, MI, OH) ICM (International International Connections Manager) Herndon, VA JVNCnet (Global TIGER US and international Enterprise Services, Inc.) Princeton, NJ MSEN, Inc Michigan Ann Arbor, MI NEARnet Northeast US (ME, NH, Cambridge, MA VT, CT, RI, MA) nic.near.net NavadaNet Nevada Las Vegas, NV NYSERnet New York Syracuse, NY info-nysernet.org OARnet Ohio Columbus, OH PSInet (Performance PSI82 US and international Systems International Inc.) The amount of bandwidth is determined by several factors, including the number of users that may wish to access the Internet at any given time, the volume of traffic that is expected to traverse the link, and the size of the files that must be moved over the link. And when use is heavy, delay also becomes an important consideration, especially when the link connects a 10M b/s Ethernet or 16M b/s Token Ring to the Internet. The delay on a 56Kb/s link may be unacceptable, in which case a T1 link provides up to 24 times more bandwidth and, consequently, much less delay. Along with determining connection and bandwidth requirements, thought must be given to the interfaces required for hosts, LAN servers, or individual PCs that will enable them to connect to these facilities. Equipping individual hosts and PCs with such interfaces can be quite expensive, unless the traffic volumes justify the cost. In most cases, equipping a designated LAN server as the gateway to the Internet will be the most economical choice.
11 For organizations with multiple locations spread out over vast geographical distances, these calculations will have to be done separately for each site. It is conceivable that large sites with heavy traffic volumes will need full-time links to the Internet, while smaller sites can get by with dial-up access for occasional Internet use. An additional factor to consider is the geographical coverage of the network provider. It the user sites are clustered in a region of the country, a regional provider may supply the required geographical coverage at reasonable cost, but if national or international connectivity is desired, there are network providers that furnish the appropriate coverage. It is necessary to consider, too, what kind of Internet services will be required by end users. Some interactive applications require the full TCP/IP protocol suite, whereas others, such as , do not. If the full TCP/IP protocol suite is required, this may mean having to equip non-unix computers with the appropriate software, especially if multiple sessions must be supported. (Most UNIX systems already have the TCP/IP software bundled with the operating system.) There must be an assessment of what existing bridges and routers can be used for the full-time Internet link. Most vendors of bridges and routers support TCP/IP, but it must be determined if the equipment can handle the increased load and if spare ports are available to support the new connections to the Internet. If not, the cost of additional interconnect equipment (or upgrades) must be factored into the communications budget. Finally, value-added services may be important, depending on the level of expertise of in-house communications staff. There are Internet providers that offer 24-hour support and directories, as well as training, consulting, and troubleshooting services(typically at extra cost). Alternatively, there are BBSs on the Internet that provide information for getting acquainted with the Internet and front-end tools that make Internet navigation a lot easier. In addition, there are now many books and references available about the Internet that can provide new users with tips and advice about getting started. Conclusion The Internet will increasingly be used for commercial purposes, with many organizations using it to support intracompany communications, particularly electronic mail. With the projected growth of the Internet, it will not be long before it is used extensively for marketing commercial products and services. With very little effort a software firm could, for example, distribute a trial version of its latest product to (potentially) its most interested audience. This could generate sales virtually overnight. Companies can also use the Internet to perform help desk functions, that is, provide access to an expert data base that allows users to troubleshoot problems with products or systems purchased from that company. The Internet will gain in popularity and continue to expand. The Internet SOCiety estimates that by the year 2000 the Internet will consist of about 100 million hosts, 3 million networks, and close to 1 billion users. Much of this growth is expected to come from the commercial sector of the economy. Author Biographies Nathan J. Muller Nathan Muller is an independent consultant in Huntsville, Alabama specializing in advanced technology marketing and education. In more than 20 years of industry experience, he has written extensively on many aspects of computers and communications, having published seven books and hundreds of technical articles. He has held numerous technical and marketing positions with such companies as Control Data Corporation,
12 Planning Research Corporation, Cable & Wireless Communications, ITT Telecom, and General DataComm, Inc. he has an M.A. in Social and Organizational Behavior from George Washington University.