US National Science Foundation floats next-generation internet

Security built-in to the network that will connect all kinds of devices, not just computers

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has proposed a next-generation internet with built-in security and functionality that connects all kinds of devices. And researchers are also challenging the government agency to look at the internet as a “clean slate.”

The NSF’s Global Environment for Networking Investigations (GENI) initiative would include a research grant programme and an experimental facility to test new internet technologies but the project is not yet funded, says NSF spokesman Richard Vines. “It’s an idea under consideration,” he says.

Researchers need to start thinking beyond the current internet and consider radical new ideas for continuing challenges such as internet security and ease of use, says David Clark, a senior research scientist in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I’m not at all picking on the internet — the internet does what it does well,” says Clark, who received an NSF grant to advise the agency on the GENI project. “But there are some things where you say, ‘that doesn’t work right’.”

NSF officials announced the GENI project at a conference for the Special Interest Group on Data Communications in Philadelphia. The group’s members are interested in the systems engineering and architectural questions of communication.

As Clark envisions it, the GENI project would go beyond current efforts to incrementally improve the internet. The US Department of Defence has been pushing for adoption of IPv6 to replace the widely used IPv4 but the GENI project would go years beyond the current vision for IPv6, says Clark, a long-time internet security researcher who served as chief protocol architect for the US government’s internet development efforts during the 1980s.

Clark hopes the GENI project will envision the internet society’s needs 15 years or more from now. “I’m worried about the framing of the question, so that we don’t think so incrementally,” Clark says. “I’ve had some people come in and say, ‘Can we rethink the use of packets?’”

Vines calls the project a “very, very preliminary” proposal. “As I understand it, this could be years in the making.”

“There isn’t a budget request for it or anything yet. [The NSF is] just trying to get community involvement in the idea so far.”

The NSF’s Directorate for Com­puter and Information Science and Engineering would encourage the involvement of other government agencies, private companies and other countries, too, according to a GENI information page on the NSF website.

Among the goals of the GENI Initiative would be new core functionality for the internet, including new naming, addressing and identity architectures; enhanced capabilities, including additional security architecture and designing for high availability; and new internet services and applications.

The GENI project would “explore new networking capabilities that will advance science and stimulate innovation and economic growth,” according to the NSF’s GENI webpage.

“The GENI initiative responds to an urgent and important challenge of the 21st century — to advance significantly the capabilities provided by networking and distributed system architectures.”

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