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The future of the internet looks bright: Future Internet Architecture (FIA)

Ever wondered what the future Internet might look like?

With nearly one-third of the world’s population now online, we are ever-dependent on the Internet and can hardly imagine being without it. As we are driven by technological innovations and the requirements of emerging and yet-to-be-discovered applications, the Internet of the future is likely to look very different than it does today.

In a relatively short time, the Internet has created unparalleled opportunities for advancing knowledge.  What began as a small scale network of networks has evolved to becoming integral to our lives and vital to the operation of most sectors of our society. But the continued success of the Internet is increasingly threatened by the sophistication of security attacks and by the lack of performance reliability of Internet services. As our reliance on a secure and highly dependable information technology infrastructure continues to increase, it is no longer certain that the emerging needs of our society can be met by the current Internet.

Recognizing this need for a secure and highly-dependable information technology infrastructure and building on the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s on-going investments in network science and engineering, the Director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) has created the Future Internet Architecture (FIA) program to stimulate innovative and creative research to explore, design, and evaluate trustworthy future Internet architectures.  The objective is to get the research community to collaborate on visionary, transformative thinking – unfettered by the constraints of today’s networks, yet inspired by lessons learned and promising new research ideas – to design and experiment with new network architectures and concepts that take into consideration the larger social, economic, and legal issues that arise from the interplay between the Internet and society.

Here are some of the interesting ideas that have arisen from this program:

Named Data Networking

The current Internet’s traditional approach to communications is based on a client-server model of interaction: communicating parties establish a relationship and then proceed to transfer information where data contained within IP packets are transported along a single path. Today, however, the most predominant use of the Internet is centered on content creation, dissemination and delivery, and this trend is likely to continue. The proposed Named Data Networking (NDN) architecture moves the communication paradigm from today’s focus on “where” (URL addresses, servers, and hosts) to “what” (the content that users and applications care about). By naming data instead of their location (IP address), NDN transforms data into first-class entities. NDN secures the content and provides essential context for security, enabling trustworthiness as well as several radically scalable communication mechanisms such as automatic caching to optimize bandwidth and the potential to move content along multiple paths to the destination.


The Internet’s flexibility, adaptability, and ubiquity have enabled an unprecedented wave of innovation that transformed our lives. Yet increasing user demand for seamless communication on the go brings about new challenges that stress the current Internet, originally designed to support communications between fixed end-points. The MobilityFirst project takes a different approach and proposes an architecture centered on mobility as the norm, rather than the exception. The architecture provides robustness even when networks are disconnected. Integrated with the use of self-certifying public key addresses that provides an inherently trustworthy network, the project focuses on the tradeoffs between mobility and scalability and on opportunistic use of network resources.


The growing trend towards migrating storage and applications into the “cloud” is creating new opportunities for global-scale, network-centric computing infrastructures. Enabling new ways of provisioning resources, cheaper pricing, and easy management, NEBULA (Latin for cloud) is an architecture  in which the primary stores of data and the place of computation is in the cloud. In this future model, the data centers are connected by a high-speed, extremely reliable and secure mainstay network. The project focuses on developing new trustworthy data, control, and core networking approaches to support the emerging cloud computing model of always-available network services, and also addresses the technical challenges in creating a cloud-computing-centric architecture.

eXpressive Internet Architecture

The eXpressive Internet Architecture (XIA) addresses the growing diversity of network use models, the need for trustworthy communication, and the growing set of stakeholders who coordinate their activities to provide Internet services. XIA explores the technical challenges in creating a single network that offers built-in support for communication between communicating principals–including hosts, content, and services–while accommodating unknown future entities. XIA dictates the application programming interface (API) for communication and the network communication mechanisms and provides intrinsic security in which the authenticity of communication is guaranteed. XIA enables mechanisms for establishing trust between the communicating principals, bridging the gap between human and intrinsically secure identifiers. This project includes user experiments to evaluate and refine the interface between the network and users, and studies that analyze the relationship between technical design decisions, and economic incentives and public policy.


The Internet has been critical for business, government, military, and personal communication. Some recent trends in technology and network use have pushed the capabilities required of the Internet beyond what can be provided by the current infrastructure. The ChoiceNet project aims to develop a new architectural Internet design that will enable sustainable innovation in the core of the network, using economic principles. The idea is to support “choice” as the central aspect of the architecture. It encourage alternatives to allow users to choose from a range of services, let users vote with their wallet to reward superior services, and provide the means to stay informed on available alternatives and their performances. Solutions are approached from different directions, reflecting the team’s multidisciplinary expertise in computer networking, network systems, management science, and network economics.

The FIA program is just one step towards an improved internet of the future. “While the ultimate goal is the design and deployment of a network that serves all the needs of society, we realize that these projects are just the beginning of what it would take to create a full scale Future Internet,” says Darleen Fisher, program director for the FIA projects. “We expect that the knowledge obtained from this research will inform the development of future networks.”

It’s good to know there are some great minds working on the next iteration of the Internet. It’s coming!