Among the interesting meetings I attended in 2010 was the principal investigators (PI) meeting for NSF’s new “Future Internet Architecture” (FIA) program. The FIA program builds on the successes of NSF’s previous Future Internet Design (FIND) program, the recommendations of a review panel, and a community summit in October 2009. (The FIND program itself has been integrated into NSF’s new Network Science and Engineering research program, while the four FIA teams are attempting to implement some of the ideas developed thus far.) CAIDA is participating in one of these projects — Named Data Networking (NDN), led by Van Jacobson at Xerox Parc and Lixia Zhang at UCLA. (Background links to 2010 technical report describing the proposed architecture, Van’s August 2006 video lecture and 2009 ACM Queue Q&A on NDN ideas.)
The conversation about Future Internet research has matured over the last three years. In particular, NSF’s activities have inspired cooperative international dialogue about the global Internet’s problems, confronting their interdisciplinary nature while recognizing the practical problems in pursuing scientific knowledge about the Internet. Accordingly, all four projects (NDN, Mobility First, NEBULA, and eXpressive Internet Architecture (XIA)) have common themes, reflecting rough consensus on the goals of a scalable future Internet architecture, though not necessarily how to implement them: mobility, security, reliability, efficiency, sustainability. Social scientists and economists are now formally engaged in the conversation with computer and network scientists and engineers, all actively trying to learn each other’s language as we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of proposed network architectures.
Lending further gravity and unsettling motivation to the conversation is the continued failure of (or at least grim outlook for) a relatively minor architectural innovation. Admittedly the failure of IPv6 deployment (indeed, thus far, the failure to even measure it) begs the question of how anything more radical could pass the (too often) blindingly obvious technology transition barrier. It also constitutes additional evidence that the current Internet is subject to some persistently insurmountable constraints regarding deployment of architectural innovation.
But the plot thickens. The IETF also has no solution to the scalability problems they admit have always existed in the Internet’s routing system. Their Internet routing research working group, assigned the task of developing a recommendation for future routing architecture to be pursued by the IETF, has recently closed four years of debate with a set of recommendations from the chairs (hint: ILNP) in lieu of the traditional rough consensus of the working group. If a relatively small ostensibly cooperative subset of the technical standards community cannot reach consensus on how to move forward, it is a sign further research is needed.
Most importantly, I find the ten-site (and growing) NDN project intellectually invigorating and epistemologically gratifying. Intellectually invigorating, because it does allow us to indulge in “clean slate” architectural thinking, but also offers a conceivable deployment path as an overlay to the current Internet. Epistemologically gratifying, because the fundamental tenets of the architecture are based on our best empirical understanding of Internet evolution, dynamics, and usage, as well as the proven strengths and weaknesses of the current architecture. Even better, there is some running code and growing community through which some rough consensus seems likely to develop this decade.
NSF deserves much credit for funding this initiative as the Internet infrastructure continues to embed itself in all other critical infrastructures world-wide. [Disclosure: As part of this program, CAIDA receives a modicum of support from NSF grant CNS-1039646.]