A New Internet

A Wikimedia server room.

A Wikimedia server room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A research group in Europe has proposed to overhaul the way the Internet looks for data. The group was funded as part of a project called ‘Pursuit’ and their ideas are described in this Pursuit Fact Sheet.

The proposal involves changing the way that the Internet searches for data. Today searches are done by URL, or Universal Resource Locator. What URL searches do is to identify the original server that holds the desired data. When you do a Google search that is what you find – the address of the original server. The problem with looking for data this way is that everybody looking for that same data is going to be sent to that same server.

There are several problems that are associated with searches based upon looking for the original server that holds a piece of data. It means that everybody looking for that data is sent to the same server. If enough people look for that data at the same time the original server might crash. The original server can also be effectively shut down by denial of service attacks. And sending everybody to the original server is inefficient. If the original content everybody is looking for is a video, then that video is downloaded to each person who asks to see it, if you and your neighbors all decide to watch the same video, then it is downloaded individually to each one of you and will be sent through the Internet many times.

The Pursuit proposal is suggesting that we instead change the Internet to use URIs (Universal Resource Identifiers) to search for data. This kind of search is going to look for the content you are looking for rather than for the server that originally stored the data. So if you are looking for a TV show, it will look to see where that show is currently stored. If somebody in your local network has recently watched that show then the data is already available locally and you will be able to download it much faster and also not have to initiate a new download from the original server.

This is somewhat akin to the way that file-sharing sites work and you might be given a menu of sites that hold the data you are looking for. By choosing the nearest site you will be retrieving the data from somewhere other than the original server. The closer it is to you (network-wise, no geographically) the faster and more efficiently you will be able to retrieve it.

But more likely the retrieval will be automated, and you may download the content from many locations – grabbing a piece of the desired video from the different networks that currently hold that data.

This is not a new concept and networks that use switched digital video have been using the same concept. In those systems, the first person in a neighborhood node that watches a certain channel will open up a connection for that channel. But the second person then shares the already-open channel and does not initiate a new request back to the TV server. This means that a given channel is opened only once for a given node on the network.

There are huge advantages to this kind of shift in the Internet. Today the vast majority of data being sent through the Internet is video. And one has to imagine that very large numbers of people watch the same content. And so changing to a system where a given video is sent to your local node only one time is a huge improvement in efficiency. This is going to take the strain off of content servers and is also going to relive a lot of the congestion on the Internet backbone. In fact, once the data has been dispersed the Internet the original server could be taken out of service, but the content will live on.

There are some downsides to this kind of system. For example, one often hears of somebody pulling down content that they don’t want viewed any longer. But in an information-centric network it would not matter if data is removed from the original server. As long as somebody was recently watching the content it would live on, independent of the original server.

There are a lot of changes that need to be made to make a transition to an information-centric web. This is going to take changes to the transport, caching systems, error control, flow controls and other core processes involved in retrieving data. But the gigantic increase in efficiency from this change means that it is inevitable that this is going to come to pass.

Data Back-up

There is a tremendous amount of free on-line storage available today. Just last week Flickr began offering their customers a free terabyte of storage. There is also a thriving new industry of data centers that are offering deals for businesses to back up their data on-line for affordable prices. So you might suppose that there is not much of an opportunity to provide off-sight storage for your customers. As attractive as some of the on-line storage prices are they don’t shut you out of this business. I have a number of customers who are making money by providing storage for customers. So let’s look at how they are doing it.

First, you have to recognize that there is an ever-increasing need to back-up data, including from many businesses that would surprise you. There are a number of businesses that are now creating mountains of data. And with the impending creation of the Internet of Things the need for storage is going to continue to grow.

Storage is getting cheap and customers will certainly keep a copy of their data on site. But no storage device is foolproof and there is always the risk of storage device failure, fire, flood or other damage to local storage. So the smart business will also store their data somewhere off-site.

While there are many web-based companies that will store data, you will find that many customers would prefer to store their data with somebody they know and trust. When they send their data out into the cloud they really don’t know where it is going and what is being done with it. And there is always the chance that the company that stores their data will fold and the data will be lost someday.

So the number one sales pitch to make with data back-up is that your customer already knows and trusts you. You can show them your central office or headend if they want to see it. Data centers spend a lot of effort showing customer that their data is very secure, but the chances are that your existing central office is already secure enough for most customers. There is also less of a chance of data being hacked in your central office, simply because hackers aren’t looking at you as a target.

Another advantage of storing data locally is that the data is on-net between you and your customer. This means that you are going to be able to stream their data quickly to them in case of a recovery much faster than is going to happen over the open web. You have a direct connection to your customer, which is something nobody else can claim, and if large amounts of data are going to be exchanged this is a significant advantage. If the worst happens and they lose all of their local data, you can have them up and running again very quickly if you back up both their content and operating software.

There are a number of options on how to store data for your customers. First, you can just host a second version of the same servers they have at their business. This allows them to always have a mirror back-up of everything they are doing. Customers who want to do this are the best candidates for local storage because they are going to want to be able to occasionally visit the servers in your office. In this scenario it is typical for the customer to pay for the server.

But you can also get more efficient and put multiple customers into one large server or series of servers to save money on hardware and software at your end. In this case you can provide a mirror image of their own server, but to do so on a server that you share among multiple customers.

The last option is to store just their data and not their operating systems. Companies that generate a lot of data will often do this and will even store data at more than one location.

And you don’t necessarily have to do all of the sales for this business line, you can partner with local IT firms to jointly offer this product and let them do the sales for you.

One new way to sell local storage is to combine it with a security service. More and more homes and businesses are installing cameras. These cameras now can be reviewed remotely and a customer can check in back home on their cellphone. You can enhance this product by recording and storing the video images from the cameras which lets customers get a physical image of intruders or other anomalies at their home or business.