Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Active Internet Architecture

I find the concept of an active internet architecture very interesting. I just read a SIGCOMM paper called Towards an Active Internet Architecture. The paper outlines an architecture where the computing power of the network is used to route packets through the network. To leverage the network's computing power the paper proposes that instead of packets, the network will switch capsules. A capsule is comprised of a custom user program, that is executed at every hop, and other information that is normally included in a packet. These custom programs are advantageous in that when they are executed at a hop, they could customize the data for the next hop, specify where to hop next and a myriad of other things. The cool thing this gets is the ability for a network to evolve on its own. That means that network administrators could try out new standards without waiting for hardware vendors to decide to implement it--the standard would just be encoded into the capsule. 

One of the biggest challenges of releasing new internet standards is adoption. The internet has grown to such a size where pushing out new standards simultaneously is infeasible. I think in the long run an architecture such as this would actually quicken the pace of standards adoption. For instance, smaller ISP's could deploy new standards on their network without affecting outside networks and ISP's. As soon as enough contiguous smaller ISP's have these standards implemented, the larger ISP, from whom these smaller ISP's purchase bandwidth, could then deploy these standards to connect these smaller ISP's by these standards. In this way, standards could grow incrementally.

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