Open source optical network could create a new Internet

A group of engineers believes hiding complexity so traditional programmers can develop for the Internet is the future of the Internet.

A new kind of Internet might be in the cards, according to some researchers.

Electrical scientists at the University of Bristol say in an article on the university's website that network infrastructure needs to be open-sourced and light-based for it to scale for the future. Existing infrastructure won't be able to foster innovation in the future, they said. 

New applications

New types of Internet applications aren't suited to the existing Internet, the scientists claim. The Internet, as it exists now, isn't high-performance enough and is too complicated.

It will take light-speeds, software-defined networking, and the hiding of clunky complexity to support innovation and speeds of the future.

Current infrastructure

"The current Internet infrastructure is not able to support independent development and innovation at physical and network layer functionalities, protocols, and services, while at the same time supporting the increasing bandwidth demands of changing and diverse applications," the article reads.

A new Internet is needed, they think. And it should be one that is open and programmable, and uses light to carry Internet traffic. 

'Traditional programmers'

In order for the overall Internet to evolve in the way mobile technology has, traditional programmers will need to be able to get involved like they were with the iOS and Android mobile operating systems.

The new Internet technologies that the researchers are proposing "will hide complexity of optical networks and open them up for traditional programmers and application developers to create new types of Internet applications taking advantages of speed of light," Dr. Reza Nejabati, of the High Performance Networks (HPN) group at the university, says on the website.


The HPN group is proposing "a completely democratized optical network infrastructure," an abstract to their Royal Society-published paper says.

Key elements for their Internet are optical white boxes and bare metal optical switches. Bare metal switches use merchant chips rather than custom silicon, and can be cheaper and easier to use. Open source software can be used.

Data Centers are embracing these cheaper open switches that can be programmed like Linux computers, explains Computerworld in a 2015 article.

I wrote about merchant chips in April 2015 in 'Open source a driver for merchant chips.'

Hiding the tech

HPN's vision of the Internet is that the open source software defined networking hides the technology so that "conventional network programmers" can develop "network applications for control of the optical network without specific technical knowledge of the physical layer," the abstract says.

This alleviates hindering complexity, the engineers think.

Add to this the idea of a special network virtualization mechanism that lets multiple networks use the same infrastructure, plus the aforementioned open source elements and high-speed light-based networks, and the Internet will be able to move forward with exciting new applications a la Google and iOS, they reckon.

Revolutionary applications

"New Internet technologies frequently emerge, but most of them rarely result in new and revolutionary Internet applications," Dimitra Simeonidou, group leader, says in the Bristol article.

The new network could also "change the balance of power from vendors and operators that are monopolizing the current Internet infrastructure." That would introduce wider users and service providers, Simeonidou says.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.