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Content-Centric Networking Suggests a Faster Internet Infrasturcture

By Wesley Fenlon

A developing standard called content-centric networking rethinks how we access data online.

It's easy to use the Internet without thinking about the endlessly complex series of wires connecting millions of computers to millions of servers. That network is constantly growing, encompassing more and more devices, but functionally it hasn't changed too much. We still use IP addresses, still rely on large routers to direct data across networks, still have to communicate with servers across the country (or the world) to ask for data. A group called CCNx, funded by the Palo Alto Research Center, wants to change that. It's an ambitious goal: They essentially want to restructure the Internet as we know it.

The idea goes something like this. Currently, your computer has to ping the IP address of a server to ask it for data, and the server has to respond in the same way, sending that data back to your IP address. DNS servers are responsible for translating the domain names we type into IP addresses computers recognizes. Then routers have to pass our requests for data (and the returning packets) back and forth across the Internet.

CCNx, aka content-centric networking, is the idea that this approach is old and outdated--perfectly fine for simple converstaions between two systems, but ill-suited to the Internet's modern focus on video and larger files. Content-centric networking suggests using unique names for content, rather than the old IP address system:

The CCNx protocol accomplishes transfers of content by name, irrespective of the identities or locations of machines involved.

CCNx content names are hierarchically-structured, consisting of a number of components. The hierarchical structure is like that of IP addresses, but CCNx names and name components have arbitrary lengths and the component divisions are explicitly identified unlike in the classless model of IP addresses. The protocol does not depend on anything but the hierarchical structure of the names so they may contain arbitrary binary data such as encrypted data.

CCNx content names are not interpreted in the operation of the CCNx protocol itself, just matched. All assignment of meaning to names or their component parts comes from application, institution, and/or global conventions reflected in prefix forwarding rules.

The content-centric networking approach also calls for routers to store content, which could bring data closer to end-users. When requesting a video, you wouldn't have to access a server across the country--you'd be able to get it from a local router. Cheaper, faster.

Content-centric networking basically seems like an evolution of the CDNs used today. While the system would be faster, it also sounds incredibly complex (and expensive) to institute and interweave with the current infrastructure.