As the previous remarks were intended to indicate, label switching is a technique which offers much potential for improved performance and capability in routing over a variety of link layer types. However, as was also indicated, taking best advantage of this potential can be quite complex, requiring some period of experimentation and development.
Unfortunately, to our knowledge there are currently no generally available non-proprietary platforms to allow interested outside parties to experiment with label switching technology. This limits the potential community which can contribute to the ongoing research and development in this area.
It is for this reason that we here propose the development of an inexpensive commodity-hardware-based research environment, NIST Switch, which will provide all the necessary facilities for label switching experimentation. The base system requirements are deliberately minimal, consisting of only ordinary PC hardware with common Ethernet cards (and/or, later, ATM interfaces).
Just as important as the accessibility of the hardware for NIST Switch is the accessibility of its software. NIST Switch is based on freely-available, widely-deployed operating systems (Linux and FreeBSD). Where possible, the individual components of NIST Switch itself are based on freely-available building blocks, such as ALTQ from Sony, and the Merit Routing Toolkit. To facilitate experimentation, all the essential parts of the system (routing tables and algorithms, queueing algorithms, label assignment and distribution, network device handling) are set up to be easily modified and replaced, even during runtime.
This combination of hardware and software should allow interested researchers to work with all aspects of label switching, and can form the basis of reference implementations to allow for future interoperability testing. As examples to encourage further experiments, and for their own intrinsic interest, we here also propose several projects which build on the NIST Switch components.