What if you were designing the Internet from scratch? What capabilities would you build into it? How would the protocols work --- would you have chosen TCP/IP? The GENI project looks at all that and more, and takes a "clean-slate" approach to designing a next-generation network from scratch. The project uses IF-MAP to help design how instrumentation and measurement can better work over a network, based on research being done by Deniz Gurkan, Assistant Professor of Engineering at the University of Houston.
GENI (short for Global Environment for Network Innovations) is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and provides collaborative and exploratory environments for academia, industry and the public to find discoveries and innovation in emerging global networks. Dr. Gurkan explains it this way: "It's an initiative for clean slate network protocol design. GENI can look at protocol design in ways that weren't possible when TCP/IP was first decided upon, because it can be based on how users really use a network, and we can now conduct research on real data."
Gurkan's field is fiber optic communications, and she has been working to develop a conceptual design of a measurement platform for GENI, one that would enable cross-layer communications, make more power-efficient use of a network's resources, and build programmable measurements and instrumentation directly into the network itself.
"Measurements can be a network resource, just like bandwidth," she explains. "If you design them to be a network resource from the beginning, applications can be much more intelligent, much more advanced, and higher-performing. Now that bandwidth is a commodity and we have a big pipe, we can share much more information. We can have measurements on every layer of a network, including the physical layer. Because of that, we can think of measurement in a different way than in the past."
That's where IF-MAP comes in. Gurkan first came across IF-MAP in January, 2011, and immediately saw its usefulness. "GENI requires data exchange, configuration, how data is passed, and so on, and IF-MAP handles the registration aspect of it, so right away I saw its benefits," she says. "It's also an industry standard, which is very important, because it means there are manufactured products available that are efficient and regularly updated and maintained."
Currently, she says, she is implementing an instrumentation measurement architecture in GENI using the IF-MAP protocol. All data exchange goes through IF-MAP. She will be showing off a demonstration of how easy it is to implement the IF-MAP protocol for use in instrumentation and measurement over a network at the GENI Engineering conference on November 2 through 4, 2011, in Kansas City, Missouri. The demonstration will show clients accessing instrumentation data in a number of different scenarios, for example, measuring a particle and continually posting data about it to a MAP server as the measurement values change. The demo will also show how people other than those performing the measurements can access network data to retrieve the measurement and performance logs, and then use that archived experimental data for their own research. We'll cover that demonstration when it is performed early next month.
As for the practical benefits of her own work, Gurkan speaks quite matter-of-factly about applications that may sound at first like science fiction, but that she believes will be quite achievable.
"Right now it's easy to send a video across a network," she says, "but what if you could transport a hologram across a network rather than a video? Combine that with instrumentation and measurement capabilities built into the network, and you can have doctors spread across the world cooperating on the same remote surgery simultaneously. So you might have one specialist surgeon in Japan, another in Europe, and the patient on a third continent, and the surgeons would be able to cooperate performing a remote surgery together."
Of course, that's well into the future. For now, anyone interested in seeing how IF-MAP can be used in a new-generation instrumentation measurement architecture can come back here next month to take a look at the latest demonstration.