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May 14, 2014

Move Over, HTML Internet: Make Way for XIA

Large corporations with vast R&D teams are often engines of innovation in the tech industry, but never count out academia: researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and three other institutions are planning to test a next-generation Internet architecture they've developed, designed to eliminate bottlenecks and incorporate intrinsic security features that can assure users that the websites they access and documents they download are legitimate.

The trials will involve delivering online video on a national scale, and setting up a vehicular network in Pittsburgh.

The architecture, dubbed the eXpressive Internet Architecture (XIA), includes what appear to be caching features—the researchers said that the network will be able “to directly access content where it is most accessible, not necessarily on a host Website.” The details of the actual deployments have yet to be worked out, according to Peter Steenkiste, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon and XIA's principal investigator. However, in the online video case, it will probably involve various nodes spread across the United States.

In that trial, the researchers will test the XIA network's ability to eliminate bottlenecks in the transmission of video, which now accounts for a majority of Internet traffic and is slated to grow and strain the network further. Loss of even a few data packets in a high-definition video stream is of course readily apparent, Steenkiste noted, so this will be a critical test of XIA's reliability.

Meanwhile, vehicles can use wireless communications channels called dedicated short-range communications, or DSRC, that are similar to Wi-Fi. Creating DSRC networks is challenging, however, because cars and trucks quickly pass from one DSRC access point to the next. Again, because XIA enables computer users to directly access content wherever it might be on the network, rather than always accessing a host website, it should enable vehicles to solve this issue.

Plans are underway to deploy XIA in a network in and around the CMU campus, or possibly piggybacking atop Downtown Pittsburgh's free Wi-Fi network, to enable vehicles to share information about road and traffic conditions and to enable occupants to access the Internet and entertainment options.

Simply finding a way to evaluate network architectures will be part of the research effort, Steenkiste said, noting no widely accepted benchmarks yet exist. "It's not like the network is simply faster — it's more abstract than that," he explained. Security and reliability are some of the properties that must be evaluated.

"These deployments will leverage, and enable us to deepen, our work on secure network operations, including providing a highly available infrastructure and secure authentication mechanisms," Steenkiste said. "They will enable us to build and test a robust XIA network and establish best practices for using our architecture, including support for mobility and enhanced cybersecurity."

XIA is designed to evolve with the Internet, so that it will enable future users to accommodate communications with entities that no one has dreamed of yet, researchers said. Also it’s being architected so that it can be deployed piecemeal, so that the entire Internet need not be transformed before people can start seeing XIA's benefits.

The trials are made possible by a two-year, $5 million award from the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). It is one of three new awards announced by the NSF that will allow research groups funded through NSF's Future Internet Architectures (FIA) program to extend the research they started in 2010 and move their architectures from the design stage to piloted deployments.

"These projects are just the beginning of what it would take to create a full-scale Future Internet," Keith Marzullo, director for NSF's Computer and Network Systems Division, "but the ultimate goal is the design and deployment of a network that serves all the needs of society."

Edited by Alisen Downey

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