Recrafting Internet a dicey proposition

Much has been written of late in the press about “clean slate” approaches to rebuilding the Internet.

The Associated Press recently published a story with the provocative title “Researchers Explore Scrapping Internet.” The article starts out confusing a research approach with a potential result, but does come back to reality by the end. Even if it had not, this would have not been the first time that replacing the Internet was seen as the logical thing to do, at least by people wearing the blinders of true belief or challenged logical thinking.

The AP article focuses on the National Science Foundation’s Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) research effort. GENI is taking a “clean slate” approach to networking research, in which one thinks through solutions to problems without being constrained by what exists today. This is a great way to do research, but it’s often not all that great a way to do product development. To be successful, new products generally have to provide a benefit greater than the cost of purchasing and installing them.

Today’s Net has a lot of problems — predictability, security, the need for a rational business model, for example — that would be good to fix. There’s a lot of Net out there, however, and it is working well enough to be very useful.

Who was claiming the Internet was going to be replaced was about the only thing that differentiated the recent AP report. In this case, the “who” was a reporter and the researchers interviewed for a story. In most previous cases, the “who” has been someone tied to a phone company or a phone company supplier.

I recall many times when I was belittled for doubting the vision of ATM as the technology that was going to replace all existing technology. A few years later, the song and some of the telco singers were the same, but the technology was the 3G cellular wireless that also was going to replace enterprise networks and ISPs. At this point, the Internet works too often to drive quick replacement, and none of the new applications I’ve seen touted for a new Internet cannot be retrofitted.

So, beware salesmen selling replacement instead of improvement.