A deeper look at Clark's shiny new Internet

If you missed it, the current Technology Review takes an important look at proposals to re-engineer the Internet - without the massive security holes and burdens on users to patch, upgrade, protect.

Internet pioneer wants to upgrade the Internet, TR discusses in its cover story. He proposes a new network that fundamentally handles security, mobility, and problem identification better. NSF is working on a plan to spend $300 million to build out such a network.

It would include research labs across the United States and perhaps link with research efforts abroad, where new architectures can be given a full workout. With a high-speed optical backbone and smart routers, this test bed would be far more elaborate and representative than the smaller, more limited test beds in use today. The idea is that new architectures would be battle tested with real-world Internet traffic. "You hope that provides enough value added that people are slowly and selectively willing to switch, and maybe it gets enough traction that people will switch over," Parulkar says. But he acknowledges, "Ten years from now, how things play out is anyone's guess. It could be a parallel infrastructure that people could use for selective applications."

 The way Clark sees it: "Things get worse slowly. People adjust. The problem is assigning the correct degree of fear to distant elephants."

But Vint Cerf for one, wonders if the Internet crisis is all it's cracked up to be.

"It's really hard to have a network-level thing do this stuff, which means you have to assemble the packets into something bigger and thus violate all the protocols," Cerf says. "That takes a heck of a lot of resources. . . . If Dave Clark...sees some notions and ideas that would be dramatically better than what we have, I think that's important and healthy. I sort of wonder about something, though. The collapse of the Net, or a major security disaster, has been predicted for a decade now."

Not even Cerf denies the problems are entrenched and real, though, and even if Clark's and NSF's ideas never supplant the original net, quite a lot of good may be created, Clark says.\

"My goal in calling for a fresh design is to free our minds from the current constraints, so we can envision a different future. The reason I stress this is that the Internet is so big, and so successful, that it seems like a fool's errand to send someone off to invent a different one." Whether the end result is a whole new architecture -- or just an effective set of changes to the existing one -- may not matter in the end. Given how entrenched the Internet is, the effort will have succeeded, he says, if it at least gets the research community working toward common goals, and helps "impose creep in the right direction."