Cisco, Verizon take Information-Centric Networking for a real-world spin

A recent demonstration by Cisco and Verizon showed that ICN could hold benefits for 5G networking, gathering IoT data and boosting security.

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Cisco and Verizon teamed up recently to show off the content-aware technology they say will seriously improve the performance and security of networks of the future, including 5G wireless and IoT environments.

Cisco has long been a proponent of the technology known as Information Centric Networking (ICN), which lets applications request data by a name that is based on its content rather than its location (IP address).

Cisco says that by using such technology the network can locate and retrieve data dynamically from any source – an important feature for future mobile and IoT environments.  As for improving security, Cisco says the technology secures and authenticates the data itself, rather than setting up point-to-point connections to authenticated hosts.

Potential benefits include more efficient multicast and unicast support in 5G networks, granular load balancing and lower latency for sensitive applications like augmented and virtual reality and video. It also supports data security at the network layer that guarantees integrity for all data and can optionally provide confidentiality through encryption.

Technology from Xerox PARC, open source

The Xerox PARC lab had been developing ICN for about 10 years until Cisco bought the technology from the company in February of 2017.  At the time Cisco said the acquisition helped converge “various dialects of ICN (CCN and NDN) into a single harmonized version of ICN, promoting wider and faster adoption of ICN-based solutions required to solve future networking needs.”  

At the same time Cisco put the technology into of an open-source project within the Linux Foundation’s FD.IO community, called Community ICN (CICN). Cisco contributed its own ICN software, including the CCN software acquired from PARC, to FD.IO.

Cisco has developed what it calls Hybrid ICN (hICN), which enables the deployment of ICN within IP rather than as an overlay or replacement of IP. It preserves all features of ICN communication by encoding ICN names into IP addresses, according to Giovanna Carofiglio, a Cisco Distinguished Engineer.  

“hICN supports IPv4- or IPv6-RFC compliant packet formats, and guarantees transparent interconnection with standard IP networking equipment, simplifying the insertion of ICN technology in existing IP infrastructure and enabling coexistence with legacy IP traffic,” Carofiglio said.

Cisco and Verizon expect that hICN will become a strong technology for 5G environments in that ICN adoption may dramatically simplify next generation network architecture by offering a unified content-aware and access-agnostic network substrate for the integration of heterogeneous networks, Carofiglio said.  

Testing hICN

It is the hICN technology Verizon tested in its lab recently. According to Verizon the testbed included virtualized hICN software running on Cisco UCS servers (acting as routers), video encoders (MPEG Dash streams), and clients. Clients were primarily connected via 4G LTE and Wi-Fi. Various models of Android phones were used to consume the content, Verizon said.  

According to Verizon, three roles were emphasized in the software suite:

  • Producer – generates “named data” and responds to “interest” queries
  • Forwarders – Forwards “interest” queries using a strategy and returns “named data.”
  • Consumer – Makes “interest” queries using an ICN name-space and consumes “named data.”

“hICN presents numerous advantages in a 5G context, including anchorless mobility support, access-agnostic transport with native multipath support, unified unicast/multicast, edge-embedded caching/processing capabilities, and flexible object-based security,” said Anil Guntupalli, executive director, Technology Architecture and Planning at Verizon. “In our testbed, we saw benefits due to enhanced rate adaptation and dynamic packet-granular load-balancing over multiple accesses. We think applications like AR/VR and intelligent video, which require high throughput and low latency will be able to take advantage of the technology.”

It is the mobile and video service world’s that could need hICN technology most quickly as Cisco says by 2020, 82% of all IP traffic will be video and two-third of all Internet traffic will be generated from wireless and mobile devices, according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, with the latter trend supported by heterogeneous and high speed 5G wireless access. “Traffic growth goes hand in hand with evolving video services driving future 5G networks design to meet new mobile video usages with very-high bandwidth requirements under ultra-low latency constraints,” Cisco said.

Security and hICN

Security is also a key component of hICN.  Cisco wrote in a white paper about ICN: “Current Internet security is made available by means of ad-hoc protocol extensions such as DNSsec, IPsec and TLS. TLS provides web security by encrypting a layer 4 connection between two hosts. Authenticity is provided by the web of trust (certification authorities and a public key infrastructure) to authenticate the web server and symmetric cypher on the two endpoints based on a negotiated key.  ICN security model is radically different. Instead of securing by encrypting simply connections, the ICN object-security model allows the separation of security actions regarding privacy, data integrity and data confidentiality, all of which leverage an existing web of trust based on certification authorities and a public key infrastructure. The security actions are performed directly at network layer with content identification provided in data names. All data is integrity protected, whereas confidentiality (via data encryption) is optional. Integrity protection guarantees the authenticity of the data bound to the name by including the producer signature of the data plus its name.”

hICN in the enterprise

With its key use cases in 5G and mobile, executives from both companies said hICN has an enterprise play as well.  

“We envision the concept to be implemented all the way to the edge of the enterprises and they would see very similar benefits,” Guntupalli said. Guntupalli added that This was Verizon’s first testbed. “We plan to open it up to the ecosystem and work with partners to collaborate on the use cases and implementation of the technology.”

“As enterprise mobility grows hICN would add intelligence and security to those environments all the way to the network edge,” Carofiglio said.  Cisco wrote: “Through our co-development with Verizon, we found that hICN empowers the network edge with low-latency caching and computing capabilities for the support of new revenue-generating applications such as enterprise multi-radio access, augmented and virtual reality, and IoT for 5G.”

As for when hICN-based service might hit the market, Verizon’s Guntupalli said, “That's hard to predict exactly, but we expect widespread adoption and implementation could happen within a year or two.

(Michael Cooney is a freelance digital journalist who has written about the IT world for more than 25 years. He can be reached at mccooney1@gmail.com.)

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