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Building the Future Internet

8/27/2010 8:49:00 AM

Forty years ago, no one could have predicted the evolution of the Internet.  When first created, the Internet was designed to connect machines (mainly supercomputers) with one another – after all, there were only a few, and who other than a few scientists would need networked computers?  And so, the Internet Protocol (IP) made the machines first-class citizens, allowing them to find and talk to one another.

But of course, the Internet has far exceeded initial expectations in ways that no one could have expected.  In so doing, it has stretched initial assumptions and its original communication model could no longer be up to the task.

Rather than finding individual machines, today’s Internet users are interested in finding content.  This fundamental change is making it increasingly inefficient to conform to IP’s requirement to discover and specify machine addresses, when what the user really wants is pieces of information.  To carry the Internet into the future, a conceptually simple, yet transformational architectural shift, is required, from today’s focus on where – addresses and hosts – to a focus on what – the content that users and applications care about.

And a team of Illinois researchers, led by computer science professor Tarek Abdelzaher, will be working to make that transformational shift happen.  Abdelzaher and his team will be working with researchers from UCLA and other institutions as part of a $7.9 million grant led by Lixia Zhang at UCLA to create a new Internet architecture called Named Data Networking (NDN).  The chief architect of the overall project is Van Jacobson, one of the Internet pioneers credited for great advances in TCP/IP, who has had the vision of NDN for some time.

Illinois computer science professor Tarek Abdelzaher
Illinois computer science professor Tarek Abdelzaher
Illinois computer science professor Tarek Abdelzaher

According to the team, NDN capitalizes on strengths and addresses weaknesses of the Internet's current host-based, point-to-point communication architecture in order to naturally accommodate emerging patterns of communication not well supported by today's Internet.
The project studies a set of problems necessary to validate NDN as a future Internet architecture: routing scalability, fast forwarding, efficiency of signature generation and verification, trust models, network security and defense, content protection and privacy, and fundamental communication theory.

Abdelzaher and his team, in collaboration with UCLA, will lead application development for the future Internet.  The Illinois team will demonstrate how the named-data networking paradigm can significantly simplify development of such applications and improve their efficiency and automation, as well as help make them more reliable and trusted. In the process, Abdelzaher hopes to discover new insights that improve the underlying architecture of the named-data networking paradigm itself.

“Since the amount of information that sensors and other modern technology generates and stores grows exponentially, whereas our ability to comprehend and consume it does not, future applications will be centered increasingly around some notion of information distillation - that is to say, bridging the growing gap between the increasing amounts of raw data on one end and the human need for succinct actionable information on the other,” explains Abdelzaher, a Willet Faculty Scholar. “One can think of Web browsing as one example of (a rather poorly automated and inefficient form of) information distillation, where humans look for useful information in a sea of possibly irrelevant data.”

The new paradigm has the potential to significantly improve Internet performance and greatly simplify authoring and dissemination of future information-centric Internet applications, including cloud computing applications, sensing applications, and smart spaces, where data is the first class-citizen.

"As our reliance on a secure and highly dependable information technology infrastructure continues to increase, it is no longer clear that emerging and future needs of our society can be met by the current trajectory of incremental changes to the current Internet." said Ty Znati, director of the Computer and Network Systems Division within CISE. "Thus our call to the research community to propose new Internet architectures that hold promise for the future."