Xerox PARC - the company that invented the mouse/pointer/icon combination you're probably using to navigate this story - has just launched a three letter acronym: the Emerging Network Consortium (ENC). Ian Scales reports.
The new consortium's founding members include Alcatel-Lucent, BT, France Telecom-Orange, Huawei, MACH, Panasonic, and Samsung. Its mission is to develop a 'content centric' framework for a next-generation Internet.
Instead of basing itself around network addresses (as the Internet does today) a Content Centric Network (CNN) will organise itself around content distribution, say the founders, and will build content naming and caching right into the fundamental platform. In essence, today's Internet of computers just talking to each other is so 'yesterday'. Tomorrow's evolved Internet will need to be all about shifting an ever-increasing flood of video efficiently and securely - the current Internet is not architected to cope.
"There is much discussion and coverage regarding the Internet slowing down and becoming sluggish, congested, and possibly even out of date," says John Roese, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Huawei North American R&D and Enterprise Global Competency Center, in support of the consortium. "The Internet was originally designed as an end-to-end "communications network," but has become a "distribution network" for multimedia sharing. The architecture leads to many problems as we try to adapt an infrastructure optimized for point-to-point communication to handle the exponential flood of digital media.
CCN enables people to ask for content by name (rather than arbitrary address), finding it from the nearest location (rather than source server only), and ensuring greater security (by securing the actual content, not the pipes carrying it).
"While the current Internet architecture has served as the foundation of most modern technology ecosystems today, there is huge opportunity to rethink approaches and technology to develop a next generation of the Internet that moves from basic transport to full awareness of the content, services, and higher level contextual elements that are today the key enablers for tomorrow's technical ecosystems."
That's the technology view. From a business model perspective the aims of the ENC are fairly clear. Network operators and ISPs (and the vendors that serve them) are looking to foster a next generation network which will tie content distribution and control more tightly into the network itself (or rather into the infrastructure of the network operator). All the better to 'monetise' its operation.
So functions like caching and content distribution which are today usually undertaken by network-independent entities (the likes of Akamai, for instance) will be supplemented or even subsumed by content distribution and security mechanisms built right into the network operator's infrastructure and into the packets, which is where the fundamental changes to Internet protocols are predicted.
For instance, advocates talk of content packets carrying digital signatures to authenticate authorised users and flag up security breaches. Packets would also carry around state information, data type signifiers.
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