Increasingly, new Internet services and innovations require a better transport-layer architecture, including enhanced signalling between application and network, as well as seamless transport protocols. This is particularly important for SMEs to grow and access an equal playing field with bigger players. Improving internet transport protocols The NEAT project encouraged online service innovation by developing a free open-source transport system that assists SMEs in exploiting current transport protocols. It helped prepare for architectural change of the internet so that innovators can seamlessly integrate new transport layer services. “A typical internet application relies on transport protocols to be able to run on the network,” says David Ros, chief research scientist and coordinator of the NEAT project. “Gaming, video streaming, chat applications and modern web browsers typically use different transport protocols based on technology from the 1980s that no longer reflects the needs of today’s online applications and the diversity of networks and systems,” he explains. Application developers often have to integrate old protocols and must rewrite their application if a new, better transport protocol is introduced, stifling innovation because of how applications communicate across the network. Keeping in mind that networked applications make use of these protocols via an application programming interface (API), the NEAT project designed a new transport system that offers enhanced transport API. The latter focuses on transport services rather than protocols, enabling developers to specify application requirements in a more natural way. “We developed a system that takes care of selecting the best available combination of transport protocol, transport options, communication links and other critical considerations based on the app’s requirements, requested transport service and pre-specified policies like avoiding insecure wifi links,” illustrates Ros. Importantly, the NEAT system achieves this in a way that is transparent to the application. It automatically deals with in-network devices that may block some transport protocols, discovers the best available transport features and interacts with the network to improve the user experience where possible. Open-source transport system to benefit innovation Many industry giants have built in-house transport systems that yield the best performance for applications that have special network requirements. To overcome this challenge, the NEAT project developed a proof-of-concept prototype transport architecture and system that has been released as free open-source code. “This encourages a more level playing field for innovative small companies, from which novel internet applications often come,” highlights Ros. In effect, the NEAT code base provides an example and a starting point for application developers to build modern transport systems that they can leverage and tune for their own applications. The prototype has also demonstrated the feasibility of the Transport Services (TAPS) approach now being standardised at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), to which NEAT has been one of the strongest contributors. To date, NEAT is the only open-source TAPS-compatible system available. It’s worth noting that “the NEAT partners are either already shipping products based on project developments or considering its outcomes as part of their product roadmaps and business strategies,” sums up Ros. Via IETF standards, NEAT concepts are being rolled out in commercial operating systems by industry players beyond the project consortium.
NEAT, transport protocols, internet applications, internet transport architecture, API, application programming interface, internet engineering, IETF