Designing a New Internet with a New Architecture

Wired News reports that David Clark is beginning work (within academia and with the help of the NSF) on a new “clean slate” internet architecture:

Clark, who served as chief protocol architect for the government’s internet development initiative in the 1980s, wants researchers to re-imagine the infrastructure that connects computer users around the world.

The problem with today’s internet, according to Clark, is that its 30-year-old design, which allowed for the development of exciting new applications (the world wide web, e-commerce, file sharing, you name it), is now stifling further growth.

A new architecture could allow for ubiquitous embedded wireless communications devices and sensors. It could also provide for more secure and convenient forms of commerce. A super-high-speed internet could even allow people a world apart to collaborate inside elaborate 3-D virtual arenas, a process called tele-immersion.
Clark said he would like to see two things addressed in any replacement for the current internet. The first is a coherent security architecture. The second is a healthy economic infrastructure for network service providers, who will need a bigger piece of the pie in the new internet than the one they are getting now if they are going to help pay for building it.

Clark is arranging a workshop this summer to bring together network architects and computer security specialists. He said he wants to encourage security specialists to think more about architecture, rather than simply their next anti-virus software upgrade.

Clark’s focus on the architecture of the Internet, and the security & scalability it engenders, recalls Lawrence Lessig’s claim that “code is law.” From Code:

In real space recognize how laws regulate – through constitutions, statues, and other legal codes. In cyberspace we must understand how code regulates – how the software and hardware that make cyberspace what it is regulate cyberspace as it is. (1999, p. 6)

For Lessig, how a system is designed – its architecture – will affect the freedoms and control the system enables. Clark understands this, and correctly calls for an entirely new Internet architecture to “solve its underlying problems.”

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