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Outlook 2010

2020 Vision: Why you won't recognize the 'Net in 10 years

U.S. computer scientists rethink everything about the Internet, from IP addresses to DNS to routing tables

By , Network World
January 04, 2010 12:02 AM ET
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Davis Social Links creates an extra layer in the Internet architecture: on top of the network control layer, it creates a social control layer, which explains the social relationship between the sender and the receiver.

"Our social network represents our trust and our interest with other parties," Wu explains. "That information should be combined together with the packets we are sending each other."

Davis Social Links currently runs on Facebook, but researchers are porting it to the GENI platform.

Although based on the popular Facebook application, Davis Social Links represents a radical change over today's Internet. The current Internet is built upon the idea of users being globally addressable. Davis Social Links replaces that idea with social rather than network connectivity.

"This is revolutionary change," Wu says. "One of the fundamental principles of today's Internet is that it provides global connectivity. If you have an IP address, you by default can connect to any other IP address. In our architecture, we abandon that concept. We think it's not only unnecessary but also harmful. We see [distributed denial-of-service] attacks as well as some of the spamming activity as a result of global connectivity."

Davis Social Links also re-thinks DNS. While it still uses DNS for name resolution, Davis Social Links doesn't require the result of resolution to be an IP address or any unique routable identity. Instead, the result is a social path toward a potential target.

"The social control layer interface under Davis Social Links is like a social version of Google. You type some keywords…and the social Google will give you a list of pointers to some of the social content matching the keywords and the social path to that content," Wu explains.

Wu suggests that it's better and safer to have connectivity in the application layer than in the network layer. Instead of today's sender-oriented architecture – where a person can communicate with anyone whose IP address or e-mail address is known — Davis Social Links uses a social networking system that requires both sides to have a trust relationship and to be willing to communicate with each other.

"As humans, we have very robust social networks. With the idea of six degrees of separation, it's very realistic that you will be able to find a way communicate with another," Wu says.

Content-centric networks

Another radical proposal to change the Internet infrastructure is content-centric networking, which is being developed at PARC. This research aims to address the problem of massive amounts of content — increasingly multimedia — that exists on the Internet.

Instead of using IP addresses to identify the machines that store content, content-centric networking uses file names and URLs to identify the content itself. The underlying idea is that knowing the content users want to access is more important than knowing the location of the machines used to store it.

"There are many exabytes of content floating around the 'Net…but IP wasn't designed for content," Jacobson explains. "We're trying to work around the fact that machines-talking-to-machines isn't important anymore. Moving content is really important. Peer-to-peer networks, content distribution networks, virtual servers and storage are all trying to get around this fact."

Jacobson proposes that content — such as a movie, a document or an e-mail message — would receive a structured name that users can search for and retrieve. The data has a name, but not a location, so that end users can find the nearest copy.

In this model, trust comes from the data itself, not from the machine it's stored on. Jacobson says this approach is more secure because end users decide what content they want to receive rather than having lots of unwanted content and e-mail messages pushed at them.

"Lots of relay attacks and man-in-the-middle attacks are impossible with our approach. You can get rid of spam," Jacobson says. "This is because we're securing the content itself and not the wrapper it's in."

Jacobson says content-centric networking is a better fit for today's applications, which require layers of complicated middleware to run on the Internet's host-oriented networking model. He also says this approach scales better when it comes to having millions of people watching multimedia content because it uses broadcast, multi-point communications instead of the point-to-point communications built into today' s Internet.

More than anything, content-centric networking hopes to improve the Internet's security posture, Jacobson says.

"TCP was designed so it didn't know what it was carrying. It didn't know what the bits were in the pipe," Jacobson explains. "We came up with a security model that we'll armor the pipe, or we'll wrap the bits in SSL, but we still don't know the bits. The attacks are on the bits, not the pipes carrying them. In general, we know that perimeter security doesn't work. We need to move to models where the security and trust come from the data and not from the wrappers or the pipes."

PARC has an initial implementation of content-centric networking up and running, and released early code to the Internet engineering community in September. Jacobson says he hopes content-centric networking will be one of the handful of proposals selected by the NSF for a large-scale experiment on the GENI platform.

Jacobson says the evolution to content-centric networking would be fairly painless because it would be like middleware, mapping between connection-oriented IP below and the content above. The approach uses multi-point communications and can run over anything: Ethernet, IP, optical or radio.

Will the Internet of 2020 include content-centric networking? Jacobson says he isn't sure. But he does believe that the Internet needs a radically different architecture by then, if for no other reason than to improve security.

"Security should be coming out of the Web of interactions between information," Jacobson says. "Just like we're using the Web to get information, we should be using it to build up our trust. You can make very usable, very robust security that way, but we keep trying to patch up the current 'Net."

Read more about lans & wans in Network World's LANs & WANs section.

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