Is it time to reboot the Internet?

Last month's Technology Review laid out the bold proposition that bootstrapping the Net isn't working. Is it time to build the Net from scratch?

The National Science Foundation is working on $200-$300 million research plan to investigate "clean slate" architectures for the Internet, Technology Review says in their December/January cover story. The approach is based on part on the ideas of Internet pioneer David Clark.

They also hope to develop an infrastructure that can be used to prove that the new system is really better than the current one. "If we succeed in what we are trying to do, this is bigger than anything we, as a research community, have done in computer science so far," says Guru Parulkar, an NSF program manager involved with the effort. "In terms of its mission and vision, it is a very big deal. But now we are just at the beginning. It has the potential to change the game. It could take it to the next level in realizing what the Internet could be that has not been possible because of the challenges and problems."

 Clark's assessment of the current Internet is pessimistic - so much so that he believes fundamental rearchitecture is required.

Over the years, as Internet applications proliferated -- wireless devices, peer-to-peer file-sharing, telephony -- companies and network engineers came up with ingenious and expedient patches, plugs, and workarounds. The result is that the originally simple communications technology has become a complex and convoluted affair. For all of the Internet's wonders, it is also difficult to manage and more fragile with each passing day.

That's why Clark argues that it's time to rethink the Internet's basic architecture, to potentially start over with a fresh design -- and equally important, with a plausible strategy for proving the design's viability, so that it stands a chance of implementation. "It's not as if there is some killer technology at the protocol or network level that we somehow failed to include," says Clark. "We need to take all the technologies we already know and fit them together so that we get a different overall system. This is not about building a technology innovation that changes the world but about architecture -- pulling the pieces together in a different way to achieve high-level objectives."

 

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