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NY Times: Time to build a new Internet? from Stanford --
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Sun, 1 Mar 2009 12:51:29 -0500

Begin forwarded message:

From: Guru Parulkar <parulkar () stanford edu>
Date: February 26, 2009 10:48:23 PM EST
To: dave () farber net
Cc: "ip" <ip () v2 listbox com>
Subject: NY Times: Time to build a new Internet?


I am late in getting into this discussion but want to make a few observations especially in the context of our research program (Clean Slate Internet Design Program at Stanford) which was mentioned in the original NYT article.

Several postings suggest two concerns (among others):

o efforts aimed at reinventing or rethinking the Internet will make the network less open and thus compromise our ability to innovate.

o research programs such as Clean Slate may require a flag day when you turn on the new Internet and turn off the old one which is of course very unrealistic.

These concerns are not valid -- at least the way we are approaching our research program.

o Yes the current Internet and its architecture allow innovations at "the end hosts" and that has been great and we must preserve this. However, if you think about the current Internet (both its architecture and the physical artifact), it does not allow innovations within the network by a third party or even its owners and users. Network equipment and the equipment vendors dictate the behavior of the network -- all the functionality is baked into this equipment (in ASICs and proprietary software) and they are closed. For example, a network operator or users have little control over how routing, traffic engineering, access control, or mobility management is done within the network unless they work closely with the equipment vendors and get their ideas supported. Moreover, the network routers and switches are getting more and more complex and represent significant barrier to innovations by anyone. Wouldn't it be nice if the Internet allowed innovations at the edges AS WELL AS within the network itself?

o That is exactly what we are trying to do with OpenFlow -- enable innovations within the network so researchers, operators, service providers, application creators, and other stakeholders can find solutions to Internet's problems and keep making it better and better. This also means stakeholders can decide how they want to run their networks and services. OpenFlow defines a simple protocol which allows access to and control of the flow table in a typical switch or router from outside -- most switches/routers already have a flow table. A controller that manages the flow table (on behalf of the network operator, a service operator, users, or researchers) is implemented in software on a PC/server. Once you have access to the flow tables of switches/routers of a network, you essentially have control of the network. One can create network services on top of a controller to do customized routing, access control, mobility management, and even a new protocol stack -- people can try and deploy completely new and clean slate ideas in this setting. BTW, OpenFlow hypervisor called FlowVisor allows partitioning of a flow table among multiple controllers and so one can create multiple virtual networks on the physical network -- each managed by its own controller and network services on top.

o OpenFlow is backward compatible with Ethernet and IP in that it uses standard TCP/IP/Ethernet protocol headers and end hosts don't need to change. Several vendors including Cisco, Juniper, HP, and NEC are starting to support the OpenFlow feature in their select products and our production network in Stanford's Gates Building is OpenFlow enabled and hardly anyone notices it. BTW, this email comes to you over an OpenFlow network. Bottom line, one can partition a production network into multiple slices or virtual networks. For example, there can be a separate slice for legacy production, experimental production, and experimental traffic. And as experimental network services mature they can handle more and more production traffic seamlessly.

o In 2009 we expect a few more buildings at Stanford to be OpenFlow enabled and several other universities are getting ready to deploy OpenFlow capability into their production networks. We are also trying to see if we can deploy OpenFlow into research networks such as NLR and I2 (we have done it in a very limited way just for demo but not at scale yet).

o Bottom line, with OpenFlow we are making the Internet more open and enabling more innovations rather than make it closed and curb innovations. Also we are not expecting a flag day -- just the opposite. One can pursue clean slate ideas and also bring about a big change in the networking substrate without requiring a flag day.

o It is true that using these platforms one can explore different design choices: a network that is more secure and potentially less open or more secure and more open. We think it is perfectly ok for the researchers to explore different design choices and different choices may make sense in different settings.

Finally I want just say our program mission is to help reinvent Internet infrastructure and services by creating “platforms for innovations” in networking, computing, and storage and making them available to research and user communities. OpenFlow is our platform for innovations for networking. And we are following similar approach for computing and data substrates. This is also consistent with NSF research programs such GENI and FIND -- they are also seeking architectures and mechanisms that would enable more innovations rather than less.

Hope this helps and provides more context for our research program and approach.


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