Next generation internet will arrive without fanfare, network architects say

Jun 24, 2014
Venkataramani says there will be no hour when someone flips a switch to move us all over to the new Internet. Instead, the transition will be gradual, one small group at a time. Each new app or piece of software will be adopted safely by ever widening circles of users, until one day the old Internet will just be gone and a new one, more deliberately designed and built than the old one, will be up and running. Credit: UMass Amherst

Someday soon, the world will migrate away from the old, original Internet to a new, next-generation Internet with far better security, greater mobility and many other improved features, but most of us will never know the change has occurred, says computer science researcher Arun Venkataramani of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

"There will be no flag day, no hour when someone flips a switch to move us all over to the new Internet. Instead, the transition will be gradual, one small group at a time," he explains. "Each new app or piece of software will be adopted safely by ever widening circles of users, until one day the old Internet will just be gone and a new one, more deliberately designed and built than the old one, will be up and running. It will be seamless."

Venkataramani is the lead architect for one of the many research teams funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) who are now developing and testing next-generation hardware, software and applications to address difficult, systemic shortcomings of the old Internet. He and colleagues at UMass Amherst recently received a two-year, $1.35 million NSF grant for the next phase of the MobilityFirst project.

MobilityFirst researchers at UMass Amherst, in collaboration with colleagues at seven other partner institutions, will field-test the new architecture through three deployments: a context-aware emergency notification system coordinating with the CASA network of weather radars and the National Weather Service for end users in Texas; a of public broadcasting stations and the PennREN network in Pennsylvania, and a wireless service provider, "5Nines," in Madison, Wis.

Today's Internet, really a network of networks, grew slowly, as an overlay on top of the telephone system, Venkataramani says. Its users trusted one another and did not foresee its tremendous success, nor the need to guard against malware, hostile denial of service (DoS) and other attacks that are common today. "As a result, the Internet continues to remain vulnerable to severe attacks that can be launched by adversaries with very little resources," he points out.

"In fact, even a benignly misconfigured router can result in outages of large portions of the Internet or high-value web services. It is frightening to even think about the havoc that a maliciously motivated ISP or a nation-state indulging in cyberwarfare could wreak."

"The Internet's designers left security out of the design process, and it is nearly impossible now to retrofit its multi-layered protocol stack with security," he adds. "The same is true of mobility. Neither mobility nor security were pressing concerns in the early days, but both require fundamental changes to Internet architecture. That's what our project, MobilityFirst, is about." Mobility refers to an end user being able to seamlessly stay connected to the Internet on different devices over time, for example while moving from a home computer to the car to the workplace.

Because researchers cannot run experiments on the real Internet and risk disrupting production networks, online services and end-users, they began creating a national testbed called the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI). On it, they can try new routers, servers and apps without disrupting the existing Internet.

Venkataramani explains, "Experimentally validating new ideas in realistic settings is an essential part of science and engineering research. However, validating Internet architecture presents a chicken-and-egg problem: we cannot get stakeholders today to adopt the new architecture without a convincing validation with real users at large scales, but such a validation requires adoption in the first place. GENI allows evaluation of entire Internet architectures at the scale of a nationwide ISP and lets stakeholders incrementally test and adopt the new architecture."

An example of a new feature enabled by MobilityFirst is called "context-based communication," which generalizes name- or address-based communication. For example, MobilityFirst allows an emergency notification application to send a targeted emergency message specifically to an affected location such as a football stadium or cars traveling west on the Massachusetts Turnpike. It can also customize different messages to different people, for example, one warning to senior citizens and a different one to first responders.

One of the planned field trials of MobilityFirst led by UMass Amherst, in coordination with the National Weather Service and the CASA radar testbed in Texas, will demonstrate the effectiveness of context-based hazardous weather warning apps, the lead architect says.

MobilityFirst is a collaboration of UMass Amherst with Rutgers, Duke University, the University of Michigan, MIT, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Explore further: Moving towards a more robust, secure and agile Internet

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User comments : 9

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Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Jun 24, 2014
How will we know when the NexGen® interwebz arrive? Why should I trust its kidz developers? Believe nothing read or heard without verifying oneself unless it Weltanschauung Congruent.
GuruShabu
5 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2014
To Doug,
The point is you and I have no choice.
Luciann
not rated yet Jun 25, 2014
The question is the new "upgraded" internet will retain its freedom?
Or these changes will give "powers that be" more power and control. I think the magic of internet is its simplicity and for around 4 years, after the ISP began increasing its bandwidth i never felt that internet needs improving (hardware wise)
robweeve
not rated yet Jun 25, 2014
Will that mean net neutrality will be protected from the clutches of the cable companies?
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 25, 2014
I think the magic of internet is its simplicity


The internet as it is was never designed to be without central control. The need for administration over IP number blocks to maintain coherent routing means that you always need an organization like ICANN to watch over who gets to connect to the internet and how. Beneath the surface, it's not a simple system to manage.

Ironically, the telephone network is much more decentralized, because of the fundamental difference between what a telephone number is versus what an IP address is. An IP address is basically a label or a "name" for the machine at the other end, whereas a phone number is a route description to a particular endpoint in the telephone network that is simply written relative to a well known route. That's why one telephone does not necessarily have one single number, because it's possible to take multiple routes, whereas there can be only one IP number and the internet has to know where it is before you can reach it.
George_Rajna
Jun 26, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Sean_W
not rated yet Jun 28, 2014
Sounds like a step in the right direction. Bad guys will always discover new ways to do their thing: crooks and bullies will scheme, monopolies will be sought, the prosperity, privacy and freedoms of people and groups will become targeted for destruction with various levels of success. All that can be done is to make things difficult enough and risky enough to the bad guys so it's not worth the time and effort for more than an acceptablely small fraction.
freeiam
not rated yet Jun 29, 2014
He is right the transition to ipv6 will be seamless.
freeiam
not rated yet Jun 29, 2014

Ironically, the telephone network is much more decentralized, because of the fundamental difference between what a telephone number is versus what an IP address is.


No it isn't. Nuke or overload one of the switchers and a huge number of people cannot be reached. Does the phrases 'telephone central' ring a bell?
Do the same with a packed switched network and the end points can still be reached via an alternative route (automatically). This is because the internet is designed as a decentralized adaptive network that is resilient against local disruption.
Some people have a hard time accepting the reality that packed switching networks with decentralized routing obliterated the centralized point to point telephone networks.
freeiam
not rated yet Jun 29, 2014
An IP address is basically a label or a "name" for the machine at the other end, whereas a phone number is a route description to a particular endpoint in the telephone network that is simply written relative to a well known route.

No it isn't, it's just a number, the central switcher contains the route.

That's why one telephone does not necessarily have one single number, because it's possible to take multiple routes, whereas there can be only one IP number and the internet has to know where it is before you can reach it.

Ha ha, and you have to wait a month before someone updates the route in the telephone central so 'it knows where you are' after you move to a new location.