Xerox PARC Tapped to Research the Future Internet

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-09-07

Xerox PARC Tapped to Research the Future Internet

PARC, a Xerox company, recently announced it is on one of four project teams chosen by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to pursue ways to build a more trustworthy and robust Internet.

According to the NSF, the new "Future Internet Architecture" (FIA) program is focused on collaborative, long-range, transformative thinking about new comprehensive network architectures and concepts.

PARC - the sole commercial organization funded within the entire FIA program - will be collaborating with nine universities in a team led by UCLA for "Named-Data-Networking (NDN)" in a grant worth up to $8 million. In addition to PARC and UCLA, the other organizations involved in the NDN project are Colorado State University, the University of Arizona, the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, UC Irvine, the University of Memphis, UC San Diego, Washington University, and Yale University.

The NSF describes the NDN project as follows:

"Today's traditional approach to communications is based on a client-server model...where data contained within IP packets are transported along a single path. Today, however, the most predominant use of the Internet is centered on content creation, dissemination, and delivery...The proposed Named Data Networking (NDN) architecture moves the communication paradigm from today's focus on -where,' i.e., addresses, servers, and hosts, to -what,' i.e., the content that users and applications care about. By naming data instead of their location (IP address), NDN transforms data into first-class entities...[and] secures the content and provides essential context for security. This approach allows...[for example] the potential to move content along multiple paths to the destination."

PARC brings to the program its Content-Centric Networking (CCN) research launched by PARC Research Fellow Van Jacobson four years ago. The CCN work has produced early protocol specifications and open source software [available at], which PARC released to encourage collaborative experimentation by the research community just as NSF is promoting with the FIA program. PARC is contributing the open source software as a base for the NDN project to build upon and extend. The NSF grant addresses the technical challenges in creating NDN, including, as they note: routing scalability, fast forwarding, trust models, network security, content protection and privacy, and a new fundamental communication theory enabling its design.

"Having worked at both large companies and startups, I came to PARC to make Content-Centric Networking a reality, Jacobson said in a statement. "There aren't many organizations that sit at the intersection of government, large enterprises, and universities. Given its unique position in the market, PARC understands the importance of openness and collaboration to achieve success for new network architectures. We are thrilled that NSF is challenging the research community to look beyond incremental changes, and we hope that this NSF support through the FIA program will be a significant catalyst in helping bring about a future foundation of open protocols for content networking."

In addition to working on NDN for the NSF program, PARC has also been working with a number of companies to explore commercial applications of Content-Centric Networking in various domains.

PARC's legacy with networking began with the development of the PARC Universal Protocol (PuP) protocols (contemporaneous with the creation of today's internet protocols) and the invention of Ethernet. This year, PARC is celebrating this invention - along with the GUI, ubiquitous computing, collaborative filtering, and much more - as part of its 40th anniversary. Since being incorporated as an independent subsidiary of Xerox in 2002, PARC has been working with a number of clients around the world to identify opportunities, conduct research, co-develop, and commercialize its offerings across a multitude of industries. Some of its clients include Xerox, Dai Nippon Printing, Sun (Oracle), NEC, Powerset (now part of Microsoft), Fujitsu, SolFocus, Dowa Electronics, PowerAssure, and the US Army.

"Given PARC's track record with pioneering technological change, people continually ask me, 'What's the next big thing?'" said PARC CEO, Mark Bernstein.  "Content-Centric Networking is one of two 'big bets' we are investing in for the future. Given our decision to support this research, we are honored to participate, along with our collaborators, in NSF's effort to advance approaches to networking. The world -- and the innovation landscape -- has changed so dramatically and continues to rapidly evolve, especially since the Internet was invented. We need these fundamental changes to enable the continued growth of vital information services."

$8 Million for New Projects


Meanwhile, the NSF on Aug. 27 announced awards for three other new projects, each worth up to $8 million over three years, as part of the FIA program. These programs are known as MobilityFirst, NEBULA, and eXpressive Internet Architecture.

"As our reliance on a secure and highly dependable information technology infrastructure continues to increase, it is no longer clear that emerging and future needs of our society can be met by the current trajectory of incremental changes to the current Internet." said Ty Znati, director of the Computer and Network Systems Division within the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at the NSF. "Thus our call to the research community to propose new Internet architectures that hold promise for the future."

"While to the ultimate goal is the  design and deployment of a network that serves all the needs of society, we realize that these projects are just the beginning of what it would take to create a full scale Future Internet," said Darleen Fisher, NSF's program director for the FIA projects. "We expect that the knowledge obtained from this research will inform the development of future networks."

The four basic research and system design projects funded under FIA explore different dimensions of the network architecture design space and emphasize different visions of future networks, NSF officials said. NSF anticipates that the teams will explore new directions and a diverse range of research thrusts within their research agenda but also work together to enhance and possibly integrate architectural thinking, concepts and components, paving the way to a comprehensive trustworthy network architecture of the future, the NSF said.

"Over the next three years the FIA effort will include the design, prototyping, and evaluation of different aspects of network architectures," said Victor Frost, program director for the FIA projects.

Moreover, the FIA projects include leaders in computer science and electrical engineering as well as experts in law, economics, security, privacy, and public policy. The program will support 60 researchers at over 30 institutions across the country.

The MobilityFirst project is being led by Rutgers University with collaboration from Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, the University of Massachusetts/Lowell, the University of Michigan, the University of Nebraska/Lincoln, and the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill.

According to the NSF, MobilityFirst is as follows:

"The design principles of the Internet, its flexibility, adaptability and ubiquity, have enabled an unprecedented wave of innovation, which transformed our lives; yet the increasing user demand for seamless communication on the move brings about new challenges that stress the current Internet, originally designed to support communications between fixed end-points. The MobilityFirst project takes a different approach and proposes an architecture centered on mobility as the norm, rather than the exception. The architecture uses generalized delay-tolerant networking (GDTN) to provide robustness even in presence of link/network disconnections. GDNT integrated with the use of self-certifying public key addresses provides an inherently trustworthy network. Dealing with mobility as a first class entity allows functionalities like context--and location--aware services to fit naturally into the network. The project focuses on the tradeoffs between mobility and scalability and on opportunistic use of network resources to achieve effective communications among mobile endpoints."

The NEBULA Project


The NEBULA project is led by the University of Pennsylvania with collaboration from Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Purdue University, Stanford University, Stevens Institute of Technology, the University of California/Berkley, the University of Delaware, the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, the University of Texas, and the University of Washington.

The following is a description of the NEBULA project:

"The growing trend toward migrating storage, computation, and applications into the -cloud' is creating unprecedented opportunities for global-scale, network-centric computing infrastructure, enabling new ways of fast resource provisioning,  utility pricing and consistent and easy management. NEBULA is an architecture (nebula is Latin for cloud) in which cloud computing data centers are the primary repositories of data and the primary locus of computation.  In this future model, the data centers are connected by a high-speed, extremely reliable and secure backbone network. The project focuses on developing new trustworthy data, control and core networking approaches to support the emerging cloud computing model of always-available network services. This project addresses the technical challenges in creating a cloud-computing-centric architecture."

The fourth project, eXpressive Network Architecture, is led by Carnegie Mellon University with collaboration from Boston University and the University of Wisconsin/Madison.

An NSF description of the eXpressive Network Architecture says:

"The eXpressive Internet Architecture (XIA) addresses the growing diversity of network use models, the need for trustworthy communication, and the growing set of stakeholders who coordinate their activities to provide Internet services. XIA addresses these needs by exploring the technical challenges in creating a single network that offers inherent support for communication between current communicating principals--including hosts, content, and services--while accommodating unknown future entities. For each type of principal, XIA defines a narrow waist that dictates the application programming interface (API) for communication and the network communication mechanisms. XIA provides intrinsic security in which the integrity and authenticity of communication is guaranteed. XIA enables flexible context-dependent mechanisms for establishing trust between the communicating principals, bridging the gap between human and intrinsically secure identifiers. This project includes user experiments to evaluate and refine the interface between the network and users, and studies that analyze the relationship between technical design decisions, and economic incentives and public policy."


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