New, faster Internet protocol for disasters proposed

A new Multi Node Label Routing (MNLR) protocol will cut Internet data recovery time in disasters, believe scientists

Hurricane Matthew
Credit: NASA/Handout via REUTERS

The Internet isn’t fast enough, or bandwidth capacious enough for data-intensive emergency traffic during disaster response such as in hurricanes and earthquakes, scientists think. Video streams of flood scenes, say, along with laser mapping theoretically helps responders quickly allocate resources, but it gets bogged down along with other responder traffic, video chats and social media during the incidents.

Multi Node Label Routing (MNLR) is a new protocol that will solve this reliability problem by routing responder data through a “high-speed lane of online traffic,” says an article in Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) University News. Researchers at the school have developed the tech.

The proposed, new Internet protocol works by using a simple, immediate-failover system to route emergency traffic along replacement paths should links or nodes fail due to the network taking on “more than it can handle,” the article explains.

“It is normal to have links and routers fail, and as the network topography changes, packets can be delayed, rerouted or lost,” Nirmala Shenoy, a professor at RIT’s Information Sciences and Technologies Department, and a project developer, says of disaster theatres.

That can “render loss of important data in the LIDAR images and other information.” LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing method that maps surfaces and distance in emergencies, for example. It can get corrupted through unreliability. The managers and responders’ situational awareness thus becomes delayed. Media, such as video needs timely delivery, too.

MNLR network protocol works by finding routes based on router labels. Those labels carry the information used by the routers for their relational connectivity and structure, the school says. MNLR doesn’t use either Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) or Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) existing routing protocols which the team involved think are slower than its new protocol.

“The new protocol is actually of very low complexity compared to the current routing protocols, including BGP and OSPF,” Shenoy says.

In a 27-node test the group say that incumbent protocol BGP took 150 seconds to recuperate from a failure, whereas new MNLR came back in under 30 seconds. The 27 nodes used in the test represented a mock-up incident network consisting of an Emergency Operation Center (EOC), 911 call center and so on.

The team say that MNLR has significant advantages over the incumbents. It isn’t constrained by BGP’s “default keep-alive message interval of 60 seconds,” for example. MNLR runs below existing protocols, so normal traffic isn’t affected.

The problem with existing protocols for use in disasters is that they were invented before today’s usage scenarios, they say. “BGP and OSPF are unreliable and that manifests when a link fails,” Shenoy claims.

“Sharing data on the Internet during an emergency is like trying to drive a jet down the street at rush hour,” says Jennifer Schneider, of RIT and a co-developer. “A lot of the critical information is too big and data-heavy for the existing Internet pipeline.”

“If you receive an email five minutes late, that is still acceptable,” Shenoy says. “But in an emergency situation, the implicit impact of these serious network problems truly come to light.”

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