The Next PARC Milestone


By Tim Moran

Truly, there was a time before the Internet: A time when you had to unfold a map to figure out how to get to your destination; a time when you hit the library to research a college paper on the “Gunpowder Plot”; a time when if you couldn't remember the name of that one-hit-band from the '60s, you were plain out of luck until you heard the tune on the radio again.

One of the people partly responsible for us not having to do those things anymore—the man who helped make the Internet work the way it does today—is Van Jacobson, now a Research Fellow at PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), which brought us Ethernet and laser printers, among other things.

It seems, however, that Jacobson (who, back in the day, tweaked the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to ease data-packet congestion and compressed the headers of the Internet Protocol (IP) to make the packets smaller) is a bit concerned about the Internet's future ability to keep up with the enormous data throughput. According to Jacobson and the PARC Website, as everything becomes more digital and hundreds of millions new devices and people come online every year, "data demand is exponentially skyrocketing."

The problem, says PARC, is that the Internet was designed "as a communications network, not a media distribution network. These limitations impact every part of the ecosystem—from carriers to publishers, across wired and wireless communications—and operators need economical ways to solve these problems beyond marginal improvements on existing solutions and tools."

But with Jacobson and PARC, we don’t have to worry … maybe. While no one is calling it the "next big Internet thing" quite yet, CCN (Content-Concentric Networking) could one day come to a router near you.

CCN, according to PARC, is "the next milestone in PARC's notable legacy in networking—from inventing Ethernet, to making significant contributions to the IPv6 protocol." In essence, CCN routes and delivers "named" pieces of content at the packet level, which allows "automatic and application-neutral caching in memory wherever it's located in the network.” What this means is that content can be delivered wherever and whenever it's needed without the need for complex and expensive application-level caching services.

PARC explains it this way: "CCN is designed to run alongside or independent of TCP/IP and will not disrupt existing networks. The architecture enables a suite of solutions and capabilities through effectively addressing the issues of naming, memory and security."

One of the denizens of Slashdot.com put the promise of CCN this way: "The fundamental idea behind Jacobson's alternative proposal ... is that to retrieve a piece of data, you should only have to care about what you want, not where it's stored. If implemented, the idea might undermine many current business models in the software and digital content industries—while at the same time creating new ones. In other words, it's exactly the kind of revolutionary idea that has remade Silicon Valley at least four times since the 1960s."

While CCN is not commercialized yet, PARC is doing its best to move it out of the lab and into the field. The center is offering to work with businesses that want to utilize CCN and to partner with various organizations "across the networking ecosystem" to productize the technology.

CNN might not be the next Ethernet, but PARC's track record suggests that it could keep the Internet from one day collapsing under its own weight.