Net impact


A U.S. federal agency recently announced it will provide up to US$10 million to a Cambridge, Mass.-based technology solutions firm to manage the redesign of the Internet.

The U.S. National Science Foundation has tasked BBN Technologies Inc. with overseeing the development of Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI).

This test facility – with operations across the U.S. – will allow researchers to experiment with novel network designs in an environment unfettered by requirements imposed by existing Internet infrastructure.

“It’s about the future of data communications, whether that’s a new Internet, or things we can retrofit into an existing Internet,” said Craig Partridge, outreach director for the GENI project office, and chief scientist at BBN.

“If they have some nifty new idea that requires a different protocol, there is no easy way to deploy it. If they want to try new security paradigms, they’re stuck with trying to figure out how to make them work.”

Construction on GENI may start around 2010 at a cost of US$350 million.

Businesses shouldn’t fear a redesigning of the current Internet infrastructure, he said, because historically, such changes have occurred in one of two ways, said Partridge.

The first option, he said, is retrofitting the successful technology into existing structure; the second – if they are incompatible – running the new technology parallel to the current Internet.

The second scenario will likely slow adoption rates and prove to be a short-term nuisance, but it won’t be a financial burden, said Partridge. “It’s an intellectual pain for businesses having to sit there and ask ‘should I shift this year or not?'”

In addition, vendors will adopt the new technology and weave it into existing products and services, he said.

Organizations will then be faced with the question of how to incorporate it into their business. “Innovation causes CIOs to always worry about the next innovation. This one, I would imagine, is likely to be less painful than many others.”

Vendors will most likely play their part in smoothing the process for businesses by integrating new technologies into their offerings, agrees Vito Mabrucco, managing director for Toronto-based analyst firm IDC Canada.

Mabrucco said it’s not realistic that GENI should take a clean slate approach to redesigning the Internet because companies don’t easily walk away from investments in legacy infrastructure.

“Just like the Internet was evolutionary, people think it just happened in 1999 or whenever they woke up to it, when in fact it was an evolution over a decade before.”

In addition, he said, vendors would probably not rally behind an approach that would mean “switching off that set of investments and buying everything all over again.”

A similar view was expressed by another Canadian analyst. Enterprises shouldn’t be too concerned about overhauling network equipment and purchasing new software because any new innovation will be a long time down the road, said George Goodall, senior research analyst with London, Ont-based Info-Tech Research Group.

“Any change in network technology, whether on telephony or IP, [is] always evolutionary in nature, rather than revolutionary. They run lock step with upgrade and refresh cycles on hardware,” said Goodall.

It’s not unlike the situation this past decade with Internal Protocol version 6 (IPv6), said the analyst, where it was touted as the IP of the future and raised cost concerns – but now enterprises are comfortably IPv6 compatible.


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