Active networks, smart packets
| It's time to re-think how we run networks. Every few months, equipment with enhanced protocol capabilities appear on the market promising to add performance and save money. These developments are driven by the customers - big corporations that can make economies by using multi-protocol networks, sending voice, data and video through a single network. |
VoIP (Voice over IP), for example, may well be implemented using an ATM core network. The voice channel is encapsulated in IP packets, but has to be encapsulated once again in ATM frames before transmitting the core network. Multiple encapsulation leads to additional overhead bytes, additional latency (i.e. processing delays) and sub-optimal performance.
'With active networks', said Prof. Azcorra (University C3, Madrid) speaking at the ACTS/IST workshop on Next-Generation Networking May 99, 'we can greatly improve network performance'. The idea is that the characteristics of a network channel could be changed dynamically. Data would be sent in smart data packets containing active extensions that would be executed by active routers. The channel would then be adapted according to the needs of the data. (Active extensions are the micro-applications that can be used, for example, to make web page animations.)
Active networks would reduce the time to develop and deploy new network services, and would enable network operators to 'differentiate' their services more effectively. The concept could be scaled to global networks and could bring to an end the use of wasteful overlay networks.
By Adrian Rawlings, Euronet Associates Ltd, 15.08.99