There is an increasing demand from both academic and industrial communities to bridge the gap between visionary research and large-scale experimentation, through experimentally driven advanced research consisting of ‘iterative’ cycles of research, design and experimentation of new networking and service architectures and paradigms addressing all levels, including horizontal research on issues such as system complexity and security.
This approach needs the set-up of large-scale experimental facilities, going beyond individual project testbeds, which are also needed as validation tools, i.e. for interoperability issues. They would help in anticipating possible migration paths for technological developments, which may be potentially disruptive; in discovering new and emerging behaviours and use patterns; as well as in assessing the socioeconomic implications of new technological solutions at an early stage.
The FIRE initiative (Future Internet Research and Experimentation), launched in 2007 under the 7th Framework Programme funded by the European Commission for Research and Technological Development, addresses the emerging expectations which are being put upon the Internet. FIRE provides a research environment for investigating and experimentally validating highly innovative and revolutionary ideas. It creates an open research environment which facilitates strategic research and development of new Future Internet concepts, giving researchers the tools they need to conduct large-scale experiments on new paradigms.
FIRE’s offering currently includes 13 facility projects: CONFINE, FELIX-EU, FESTIVAL, FIESTA, FLEX, MONROE, ORGANICITY, RAWFIE, SUNRISE and WiSHFUL, which all contribute to the FIRE Facility by developing a large-scale testbed or federation of testbeds, CREW and OneLab which offer open access, and Fed4FIRE which includes testbeds from most of the above mentioned – and also past – facilities.
* Coordination & Support Action projects typically support all FIRE projects
** CREW and OneLab projects finished but provide open access
Many researchers around the world have identified the above mentioned emerging limitations of the current Internet architecture and agree that it is time for research to take a fresh, long-term view considering the Internet as a complex system, which cuts across layers from network connectivity to service architectures. This system-level approach calls for strategic, multidisciplinary research on new Internet concepts, including ‘clean slate’ or ‘disruptive’ ones. In order to measure, compare and validate scientific results and also to provide a realistic basis for a scientifically rigorous impact assessment at technological, economic and social levels, these new paradigms need to be tested on a large scale. Issues at stake are for example: the balance between intelligence in the core versus in the edges; network neutrality and the end-to-end principle; the integration of network, compute and services infrastructures; trust and security by design; or the use of open source and open standards.
An experimental facility on Future Internet technologies must broadly support research on networks and services, in order to compare current and future approaches. Practical experiments are needed to give credibility and raise the level of confidence in the research finding. Furthermore, the experimentation must be performed on a large scale to be representative, convincing, and to prove the scalability of the tested solution. Experimental facilities based on federating testbeds at different levels of maturity, from proof-of-concept to validation, are needed to test compatibility, interoperability and to derive potential migration paths for innovative technologies.
The Internet, as we know it today, is almost 30 years old and has become a global success story. It began in the 1980s with research networks, with few users and limited economic impact, then in the 90s came the second generation of commercial services, which led to a traffic explosion and increased its economic impact.
Today’s Internet has become the engine for networked innovation and a ‘highway’ to globalisation and circulation of services and knowledge. Its size, complexity and the role it plays in modern society have far exceeded the expectations of its creators. It is a complicated and constantly expanding structure that has become an essential part of our lives, work, communication and entertainment. The Internet has become a critical infrastructure both from a social and economic perspective.
Although the original Internet design has successfully enabled multiple waves of innovation, novel societal and commercial usages are continuing to push the original Internet architecture to its limits. Not only are the basic Internet protocols now 30 years old and the Internet scale has increased by many orders of magnitude, but it has also accreted hundreds of additional protocols and extensions, which make its management more and more complex. Unforeseen and extremely useful and popular applications, such as Skype, Wikipedia, Facebook, and YouTube, have sprung up and steered the use of the Internet into directions which were not initially anticipated, posing demanding technological and policy challenges in different domains, such as security, mobility, heterogeneity, ad hoc connections and complexity.
The solutions found so far to address these concerns are seen by some observers as ‘patches’, which cannot last forever, and which will require a radical redesign or change of paradigms in the medium or long-term. In recent years, a number of researchers and industries worldwide have started considering radically new approaches to Internet design, sometimes called ‘clean slate’. At the same time, other observers affirm that the current Internet is instead fully scalable, some even suggesting that efforts to impose a new architecture are the biggest threat to long-term stability and growth.
The key issues related to the future of the Internet go far beyond the technological dimension. There are strong economic, social and even ethical dimensions. Freedom of speech, distributed user-generated encyclopaedia and new applications have had a profound cultural and economic impact in nearly every sector of our societies. Social networking sites are attracting hundreds of millions of users worldwide, mostly young people. Plus, the increasing availability of user-generated content fuels the ‘Web 2.0’ revolution and generates complex challenges related to security, privacy and Intellectual Property Rights. Everybody, the wider public, the policy-makers, and even researchers themselves, should be aware of the possible positive and negative effects and impacts of various technological choices, which face us. In particular it is important to maintain a business perspective in Future Internet research, to fully involve industry and end-users in the research and innovation cycle, and to ensure that the regulatory and legislative agenda moves accordingly.