New report commission: 100GB Ethernet and the future of networking

Last week I attended the BCS Visions of Computer Science conference in London. We’ll be posting a more detailed look at the event later on, but I thought I’d just mention Vint Cerf’s speech as it relates to a TechWatch report we’ve just commissioned.

Vint Cerf is often referred to as the ‘father of the Internet’ (although he’s always quick to point out that he worked as part of a team and doesn’t deserve this moniker), thanks to his pioneering work on ARPANET and the protocols for the ‘network of networks’ idea that became the Internet. At the BCS conference he spoke about those days and the excitement of early experimentation. He also covered some of the issues that now face the Internet as the number of users passes the billion mark and the number of devices or ‘terminators’ attached to it passes two billion.

He outlined several areas where there are ongoing or need to be major developments:

• A new addressing standard, IPv6, which will be able to cope with the billions of mobile phones, PDAs and other devices that are rapidly being connected to the Net.

• Internationalisation of domain names to handle non-English and non-Latin character sets such as Chinese.

• A massive increase in the use of geo-spatial and location-based information thanks to the increasing use of mobile-based access to the Web.

• The preservation and longevity of Web-based materials. Vint warned that: “our century may well be invisible to historians”.

• The energy used to ‘drive’ the Internet is becoming an issue of major concern, especially because of the large data centres that companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are using.

• Capacity of the Internet has been an issue discussed in the press. With the advent of widespread use of VoIP, Web 2.0 services and Web-based video (through the likes of YouTube), there has been growing concern that the Internet may not ‘cope’. Some commentators have referred to this as the “exabyte” Internet problem – how to build a network that can handle exabytes of information. One area of interest is the networking and routing equipment that provides some of the backbone of the Net.

The capacity issue was also the concern of the recent EARNEST foresight study into the future of the technologies that are used to build research and education networks and TechWatch has commissioned a report provisionally entitled 100Gb Ethernet and beyond: preparing for the exabyte Internet. More details on the BCS conference will be forthcoming over the next few days.