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Home > iSGTW - 18 February 2009 > iSGTW Feature - The magic of GENI: Building networks for the future

Feature - The magic of GENI: Building networks for the future

It may look like a galaxy, but is actually a map of the Internet, showing the hardware that serves as its 'skeleton' or infrastructure of the Internet. Colors indicate geographic location. Despite its obvious complexity, this map represents just a fraction of the whole network - the rest is simply impossible to accurately represent.
Image courtesy of Barrett Lyon, The Opte Project

The Internet may be a powerful tool.

But researchers trying to extend the Net's capabilities want to test their ideas for improving network design, distributed systems and cyber-security without disrupting or breaking it.  

Recognizing this, the National Science Foundation started the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) project. GENI will provide an infrastructure for a large-scale experimental network, where researcher can build test versions of the Net to safely study networking in ways never before possible.

Some of those participating in the first phase of the GENI project include the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), Duke University, and Infinera (an optical network corporation), who together form one of  29 research teams across the U.S.

One of GENI’s first goals is to  partition the experimental network so that researchers can run experiments on isolated pieces without disrupting the whole. This requires a control system to manage and allocate network resources. The RENCI-Duke-Infinera team has proposed using Open Resource Control Architecture (ORCA) — a system developed at Duke — for its prototype. ORCA is one of five control architecture candidates funded in GENI’s first phase.

The Global Environment for Network Innovation, or GENI, is envisioned as a set of components including optical substrates, forwarders, storage, process clusters, sensor fields, and wireless regions combined with a software management framework. That configuration will allow researchers to run thousands of experiments simultaneously. 

Image courtesy of Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation 

Meanwhile, RENCI’s new Breakable Experimental Network (BEN), along with Infinera components, will create a miniature version of the future GENI network, furnishing a testing platform for ORCA. BEN is a regional research network linking RENCI’s home office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to nearby universities. 

"There has to be something that bridges the gap between the lab and the real world, and BEN is one attempt to bridge that gap," said Ilia Baldine, a RENCI senior network researcher on  the team. "Researchers can run networking experiments on BEN without disrupting anyone else because the physical infrastructure is completely isolated."

Using ORCA and BEN, the team will help evaluate the fundamental concepts and capabilities of GENI.

"There is a limit to what we can achieve in network science and engineering research on the live Internet," said Jeff Chase, Duke computer scientist and fellow team member. "GENI will enable experimentation with fundamental advances in a flexible and contained environment."

Amelia Williamson, for iSGTW


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