Retro thinking will save the net

Vint Cerf reminisces

IDF Fall '04 The internet needs an upgrade if it is to keep pace with a growing population, provide the bandwidth for increasingly demanding applications and protect mission critical systems, Intel said today.

Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger argued that the net has become a complex heterogeneous environment, and that to move forward, engineers need to take inspiration from the earliest beginnings of the net. "As the network grows, applications are becoming more, not less demanding. We need to replicate the thinking of 1973 and create an overlying network," he said.

Vint Cerf, inventor of the internet, joined Pat Gelsinger on stage to remind delegates of these early days. TCP/IP was developed to allow heterogeneous systems to exchange information, he explained. It did this by putting a layer over the top that hid the complexity of the process from the applications and from the user.

He said that this did a good job for a long time, but that it was not up to the challenges ahead. "To be honest the net today is still pretty primitive, it is stuck in the stone age," Cerf said. "There are lots of limitations on the net and some of the most fundamental ones are architectural."

He said that there are four main challenges that the internet needs to address: capacity, accessibility, regulatory issues and security. "How are we going to deal with all these billions of new devices that will be connected to the net? How do we make the net accessible in more remote areas?" Cerf asked.

Gelsinger suggested that the answer lies in Planet Lab, an experimental network overlay of computational services that uses the internet as a "scaffold". He calls this the "new net", and said that just like the internet, it is being spearheaded by universities and research labs. While a services overlay is powerful, "it is not a panacea", he cautioned.

Planet Lab describes itself as a method for introducing disruptive technology to the internet. You can read more about it here (pdf). It began in 2002 with 101 machines on 41 sites in 7 countries. Now it has 440 machines running services, at 194 sites in 22 countries, and HP and Intel are starting to work on commercialising the technology. ®

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