Technical Issues

The study area focuses on possible technical developments relevant to research and education networking in the next few years. The SERENATE technology study largely focused on lower-layer issues such as routing, switching and transmission speeds, but currently control techniques are once again attracting attention as optical switching and hybrid networks become ubiquitous.

At the present time, there are few, if any, production networks in the world using 40 Gb/s. Therefore it is important to investigate whether it is likely that there will be sufficient demand to stimulate the development of networks with even higher speeds in the near future. It is equally important to consider whether even 40-Gb/s networks are likely to become more affordable, and which transmission technologies are best suited to such high speeds.

At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that it is not possible to use existing networks to their fullest extent, due to inefficiencies within certain protocols and unidentified problems at certain locations on networks. It is necessary to investigate these issues further, because it does not make sense to continue to throw bandwidth at problems that have more fundamental causes. Steps in this direction have already been taken with the establishment of the SA3 PERT in the GN2 project, and its experience of resolving end-to-end issues has provided invaluable input to EARNEST's technology study.

A new topic for study is middleware, which essentially provides the tools and data that help applications use network resources. As network use has increased, authentication and authorisation have become more important issues, complicated by the fact that users have also become increasingly mobile and wish to use resources as they move around. Allied to this is the increasing sophistication of hackers, which makes secure methods of authentication a necessity.

Finally, the technology study considers more esoteric approaches to the type of technologies that may be used in future networks. IP has proved to be very successful, but networks have evolved tremendously since IP was first introduced, and certain aspects of the protocol may no longer be adequate in future. In the United States, large sums are being invested in the GENI initiative, which aims to provide a clean slate for solving some of the current limitations of the Internet; the potential impact of this approach on research and education networking in Europe has been evaluated.

In line with these considerations, the study area has focused on the following four topics: transmission technology, control planes, operations and performance, and middleware.