Online Journal Club for Networking Researchers

Vint Cerf on Current Internet Research Problems

Posted by David Mayer on October 1, 2008

In September this year the British Computer Society organised an international academic conference, chaired by Prof.  Erol Gelenbe, featuring talks and papers under the theme of ”Visions of Computer Science”. Among the key speakers appeared also Vint Cerf, one of the founders of Internet’s underlying mechanics, currently holding the position of “Internet Evangelist” at Google.  Vint Cerf has given a speech on the history of Internet, its current issues and the concept of Interplanetary Internet.  In this article we would like to provide a handy list of what Vint Cerf considers as the most important research problems concerning current Internet.

List of research problems concerning the Internet

  • Security at all levels
  • Internet Erlang Formula
    Erlang formulas were used in telephony, whereby the call blocking probability could be calculated based on calls arrivals, duration and the number of lines. By “Internet Erlang formula” Vint means some tool which could relate network parameters to the network performance perceived by users or applications. Vint identifies the problem in the lack of up-to-date models. The never ending innovation of applications makes any model assumptions go quickly wrong, unlike in telephone networks.
  • Mobility is something that we have not handled well in the Internet
    Vint said that he had made a mistake in the design of TCP/IP by binding too tightly TCP end-point identifier to the physical location/IP address. Currently, a TCP user moving elsewhere destroys the TCP connection.
  • We are not exploiting the possibilities of
    • Multihoming – how do we take advantage of being connected to the Internet via multiple service providers at the same time (hence given several IP addresses simultaneously)
    • Multipath routing whereby multiple routes would be use simultaneously, rather than using one route after another breaks
    • Broadcasting, especially in wireless networks where broadcast is a natural feature of the medium
  • Semantic web
    Vint asserts that there is a vast potential in creating machinable semantic relationships rather than mere hyperlinks. A searched expressions may exist in several different contexts and Internet users can help increase the semantic clarity of Internet content.
  • The problem of rotten bits
    If we do not retain the software that had been used to create content in the past, it will become invisible and meaningless in the times to come. Think of a proprietary formats which are no longer supported by the company that developed them, or just older formats not longer supported.
  • Energy consumption
    One of Google data centers consumes 128 megawatts of energy. Engineers increasingly take into account energy consumption as one of the design criteria when developing algorithms and computer architectures.

A note on IPTV

Most people associate video with streaming video. However, only 15% of the video we watch constitutes real-time video. Vint asserts that the rest can and should be thought of as a mere file transfer, since the source is not real-time. This consideration lightens the otherwise stringent demands a real-time video transfer impose on networks. Vint predicts that streaming will be only a minor aspect of video on the Internet.

A note on intellectual property

Vint notices that the Internet works by copying content, hence touching on the issue at heart of intellectual property protection. Vint suggests that copyright infringment in the Internet context will need to be defined differently from a mere copying.

A note on running out of capacity

Vint asserts that the backbone links composed of optical fibres are far from running out of capacity, but problems are real in the network edges. He sees this as a regulatory and economical issue.

A closing note

During the talk Vint presented a slide with a picture of a 1977 network demonstration he co-designed. The network managed to carry a real-time telephone call across 3 completely different networks – radio, landline and satellite – networks differing in modulation, bit-rate, loss-rate (kind of VoIP in 1977!). How much has the Internet really changed since then? Apart from its unprecedented growth, little seems to have changed in its underlying foundations. This article presented a list of current research challenges as seen by Vint Cerf, a visionary who co-fathered these foundations, a visionary with the most amazing track record.


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