NSF announces program to create a new Internet

National Science Foundation officials have announced a research program devoted to constructing a new Internet.

The Global Environment for Networking Investigations (GENI) is the culmination of several years of NSF-funded workshops, grants and meetings focused on network architecture, NSF officials said.

NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate will manage the program. Other federal agencies, foreign countries and the private sector will collaborate with the agency on GENI.

NSF officials said they envision the creation of new network architectures that will be more secure, easier to use and more beneficial to society.

GENI will “enable the vision of pervasive computing and bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds by including mobile, wireless and sensor networks,” according to an NSF fact sheet.

The initiative will include a research program and a global experimental facility, which will explore new architectures at scale by relying on interconnected testbeds.

One of the Internet's pioneers is studying the feasibility of designing a new Internet. David Clark, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former chairman of the National Research Council's Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, has begun a yearlong preliminary study to determine how computer scientists could create a new Internet architecture that would gain global acceptance.

The study is the first step in re-engineering the Internet, said Clark, who has led efforts to develop the Internet since the mid-1970s. Agencies, such as the National Archives and Records Administration, are already benefiting from an Internet-focused research agenda at NSF, which is funding Clark's study.

The agency that created the earliest version of the Internet, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, used to focus on computer science research. But lately it has shifted many of its resources to advanced weapons systems development. NSF has shouldered more responsibility for basic network research, said Guru Parulkar, a program director at NSF's Division of Computer and Network Systems.

Observers say the new initiative is a positive indicator that the federal government is showing renewed interest in research and development.

“There's a real need for research in networking technologies that look far beyond the current and near-term cyberinfrastructure,” said Peter Harsha, director of government affairs at the Computing Research Association. “There's only so much that can be done with the current approaches, and the challenges are many -- security, speed, reliability, usability.”

Harsha said NSF’s initiative could lead to new approaches that address the challenges. “As NSF is fond of saying, if you want to get traffic through town a lot quicker, you don't tinker with the stoplights,” he said. “You build yourself a freeway.”

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