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Backbone providers call a truce

After three weeks of feuding, backbone Internet providers CRL and AGIS are now talking to each other, at least virtually.

After three weeks of feuding, backbone Internet providers CRL and AGIS are now talking to each other, at least virtually.

For about three weeks customers--perhaps millions of Netizens--who use ISPs on the backbones of CRL and AGIS have been unable to communicate with each other and see each other's Web pages because the two networks weren't exchanging traffic.

But as of about noon PT yesterday, packets began flowing back and forth between the networks at the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX), a key network access point where the two providers currently exchange traffic.

While traffic flowed and customers could once gain access each other's pages, the larger issue of how backbone providers exchange traffic is far from resolved.

The problem began a few weeks ago when CRL turned off its data routes going to AGIS, shutting down the traffic between the two networks, according to both ISPs.

When that happened, the two providers had no way to communicate with each other because packets--pieces of electronic communications such as email or Web page data--had no way of flowing back and forth.

But that's where agreement between the two ends. CRL says that AGIS was having an equipment problem at the CIX router, said Philip Burkhart, CRL's vice president of operations. He said the AGIS equipment problem was endangering CRL's router hardware, so CRL pulled the plug.

But AGIS officials said that was flat out wrong and instead accused CRL of intentionally shutting down its CIX switch in order to force AGIS into exchange traffic at other access points.

And AGIS network engineer Harold Willison, said AGIS wouldn't be forced into bending its rules: If it did it for CRL, it would have to do so for everyone.

Both providers have switches at other network access points, some of which they share in common. But they don't exchange packets at those other points because AGIS requires anyone with whom it freely exchanges packets to meet certain requirements, including having switches at five designated points.

Willison said CRL turned off the routes in a political maneuver to force AGIS to exchange routes with CRL at other access points.

While CRL has switches at six NAPs other than CIX, it does not have a switch at the Sprint NAP in New York. CRL says it doesn't need to have a switch there because it has one nearby. But AGIS insists that to exchange routes anywhere, CRL has to have switches at all of its required NAPs. Willison added that AGIS had told CRL it would bend the rules if CRL paid for a circuit to connect an access point to the Sprint switch, but that CRL declined

Willison said that instead of adding the switch, CRL tried to force AGIS to peer with them everywhere by cutting off access at CIX.

In a note to AGIS's customers, an AGIS administrator said that CRL's senior engineer stated the move was political and that the CRL's president confirmed that.

"They are trying to force us to change our peering requirements to suit them," Willison said. "If we change, we have to do it for everyone else. We're not going to change our policies for them because they're trying to hold us hostage."

Burkhart acknowledged that the peering situation was political. But he said that CRL has an open peering agreement and didn't said that AGIS could, if it wanted, exchange traffic at the access points they have in common.

He added that CRL has as many switches as AGIS, just not at the required access point.

But he also insisted that in this case, politics was beside the point because the CIX routes were shut down for purely technical reasons.

CRL issued a press release yesterday saying that "network engineers received confirmation on June 25, 1997 from Paul Vixie, administrator of the CIX router, that the recent AGIS hardware failure at the CIX had been repaired and is no longer a threat to CRL's router hardware."

Vixie said he had never told them that there was a threat to their routers or that there was a hardware problem, although there had been a brief one several weeks before. He said he did not know for sure whether or not there was a hardware problem.

Willison added that although this issue seems to be resolved for now, he doesn't expect it to go away, as other providers try to force AGIS to bend its rules.

"It's not the first time," he said. "I'm sure it's not the last time."