Four Scenarios for Future Evolution of the Internet

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  • Date of publication: 8 December 2011Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MTS.2011.943306



    1932-4529/11/$26.002011IEEEIEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE | WINTER 2011 | 39


    The Internet has trans-formed the lives of bil-lions of people in areas as diverse as democra-cy, education, health-care, entertainment, commerce, fi nance, and civil infrastructure. It has become the 21st centurys fundamental societal infrastruc-ture, comparable to the railways of the 1800s and the roadways of the 1900s. The Internet and its associated services have helped transform the world economy and society, catalyzing new forms of communication, collaboration, cre-ativity, and innovation. The Inter-net deeply affects human commu-nication, and the way humans deal with information and knowledge.

    Statistics indicate that the Inter-net is still growing at exponential rates. According to the last report of the Task Force of the European Commission DG INFSO, Internet connectivity is expanding rapidly in geographical distribution and number of users [1]. Currently there are about 1.6 billion Internet users worldwide (from 360 million in 2000) and 4 billion mobile us-ers (from 2.7 billion in 2006); 570 million Internet-enabled handheld devices are in use. The number of people who use mobile phones for web surfi ng has doubled since 2006. It is expected that in 2012 mobile and wireless users will out-number wired ones. In parallel with user growth, stored information is growing as well. In 1998, Google indexed 26 million web-pages; in 2009 it indexed 1 trillion. There are 400 million web pages and 55 trillion links between these web pages. The Web is processing 100 billion clicks per day, and 2 million emails and 1 million instant mes-sages per second. Video traffi c over the Internet is growing by 60% ev-ery year and will be multiplied by 1000 over the next 5 to 8 years. Web 2.0 and social networks are attracting more than 125 million regular users within just 5 years of existence. The Internet is an indis-

    pensable part of most businesses with many business processes hav-ing been signifi cantly automated by Internet technologies.

    The current Internet is the most important infrastructure of the dig-ital society. It is also adapting itself with ad hoc technical solutions that help to meet the demands of users, devices, applications, and services, enabling human activities that were not foreseen in the Internets origi-nal design.

    The networking community is aware of the rising number of ad hoc solutions to technical prob-lems, and has come to agree that these problems are of an architec-tural nature. A general redesign may be needed. The Internet com-munity understands that the design of the Future Internet should enable the smooth evolution of the current IP network and should rely on the current practice of patches to overcome existing problems. It is also commonly understood that the structural and architectural prob-lems of the current Internet cannot be solved without understanding how the Internet interacts with the rest of the world, including humans and machines.

    This article is based on work within the EU FP7 project Evolving Future Internet for European Lead-ership (EIFFEL) [2]. The project organizes semi-annual think-tank meetings where experts from all parts of the world debate the future of the Internet. Most of the identi-fi ed agreements and disagreements regarding major problems of the current Internet are provided at the FIPEDIA site [3] maintained by the EIFFEL core team. This article introduces major fi ndings that are presented in detail in the EIFFEL white papers on the future of the Internet.

    Network Community DebateThe Internet network in use today is still based on the best-effort, point-to-point service model, well suited to applications between two

    endpoints that can tolerate occa-sional performance degradation. However, many newer applications do not easily tolerate performance degradation, and many applica-tions involve multiple endpoints. This complicates any new design for the Internet. There are several major initiatives considering dif-ferent approaches to meet these challenges.

    In the U.S., the National Science Foundation (NSF) NetS research program FIND [4] is the major long-term initiative. FIND encour-ages clean slate process research proposals in the broad area of net-work architecture, principles, and design of the Future Internet. The philosophy of the program is to en-able a network design that is free from the current collective mindset about the constraints of the net-work. The NSF is considering the Network Science and Engineering Committee (NetSE) report pub-lished in mid-2009 [5], which rec-ommends further R&D activities. GENI [6], another U.S. program, focused on a fl exible and recon-fi gurable network of test-bed ex-perimental facilities and projects.

    The EU through the FP7 pro-gram funds a wide range of research activities that relate to the Future Internet. A complete, up-to-date snapshot of all related European R&D activities in the area is diffi -cult to provide. The Future Internet Assembly (FIA) was established in March 2008 in Bled, Slovenia. FIA is ensuring appropriate coverage of this large and challenging research domain that includes innovative research in the area of networking, experimental facilities and testing within the FIRE [7] program. Re-cently the initiative related to the Future Internet enterprise system the project cluster FInES [8] was added to the FIA program. In July 2009 the fi nal report of the EU DG INFSO [1] Task Group on Interdis-ciplinary Research Activities for the Future Internet was published. This report identifi ed the design,


    implementation, testing and vali-dation platforms as major research challenges for the EU. Cross-dis-ciplinary research activities are an essential part of these platforms. Japan, Korea (KOREN) and In-dia have set up similar initiatives; China has its own research initia-tive on the Future Internet: AsiaFI. Cooperation between this initiative and the EU FP7 projects recently have been set up.

    Future Internet discussions about Internet governance and business models are ongoing in other communities: international governmental and non-governmen-tal organizations such as OECD [9], ITU [10], and UN-IGF [11]. In addition, the Internet Society and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) are developing position papers and projects on issues such as the Internet economy, Internet governance, and network neutral-ity. The recently expired contract between ICANN and the U.S. gov-ernment is one step forward toward building up real internationally governed cooperation, and inclu-sion of civil society as its constitu-tional part.

    The architecture for the new In-ternet must be designed in a way that avoids predetermining the out-come of particular confl icts in the future marketplace. These confl icts should be allowed to play out inside the architecture after it is deployed.

    Articulating the grand chal-lenges of the Future Internet and working towards solutions needs a wider debate as well as concrete work among a growing community of interdisciplinary researchers and major stakeholders. Different views exist with respect to what may be missing from the current architecture or why such concepts are missing. Some of the agree-ments achieved during the think-tank meetings are presented here. A full report is available in the EI-FFEL white paper and on the FI-PEDIA portal [12].

    Evolutionary MechanismsAccording to EIFFEL, the Internet needs to be carefully observed be-fore starting the new design. The evolution of the current Internet was compromised [13] because its architecture does not allow legiti-mate concerns to be expressed af-ter its original design. As a result, users, providers, and business cus-tomers solve their problems in ad hoc ways, adding carbuncles that violate the original architecture. Then subsequent requirements are even more diffi cult to satisfy, be-cause of all the feature interactions that are exceptions to the original architecture.

    The root of this problem lies deep in the processes used to de-sign architectures and solutions. Currently, much emphasis is placed on the design phase of the architec-ture, with requirements phases and use case defi nitions, accompanied by processes of standardization. This inevitably leads to an empha-sis on concerns that are important to the players who are deeply in-volved in this phase, while it ne-glects concerns of the actors enter-ing the scene after the solution has been fi xed. This Newtonian-Des-cartian concept of system design, relying on requirements and user case defi nition phases, assumes the ability to capture all relevant concerns and therefore resolve the most probable run-time problems at design time. The widening scope of the Internet beyond mere tech-nology, and the increase in ad hoc solutions after the design of the original architecture bring this de-sign process into question. Some

    authors propose [14] a shift from a reductionist Newtonian-Descartian approach to Darwinian approaches [15], where the evolutionary kernel is a component that has been prov-en successful for multiple uses, so it may act as a platform for evolution [16]. Using this approach, design becomes the design process itself, i.e., a process in which concerns of actors are incorporated into the system at runtime, recognizing the inability to cater to all possible requirements during design time. However, this requires understand-ing what was good in the old de-sign and what should be preserved in the new design.

    These considerations during the EIFFEL discussions of Internet evolution can be summarized as follows:

    The Internet, like any large-scale system, needs to evolve. This evolution is particularly important considering the evolution of society due to the Internet. We need to un-derstand the dynamics in play and devise an architecture that is suited for these dynamics to commence during runtime.

    The scope of the dynam-ics affecting change of the Internet is widening. The Internet has become more than a technical artifact it has transformed from a net-work for geeks to a crucial infrastructure for society and business. The virtual and real worlds abide by similar rules, including respect for human rights. Hence, the question of

    Structural and architectural problems of the current Internet cannot be solved without understanding how the system interacts with the rest of the world, including with humans and machines.


    the evolution of the Internet is no longer merely a techni-cal question.

    The Internets evolutionary speed is increasing with ad-vances of technology. For in-stance, memory is becoming so cheap, in particular when compared to the formative years of the Internet, that solu-tions for caching vast amounts of content locally is likely to transform the way users and customers deal with content.

    In that context, another prob-lem needs immediate atten-tion: consumption of energy related to increased memory use and processing power. The Internet has become an-other area for energy savings and low-energy consump tion devices for infrastructure and applications.

    Coping with the changes and with the research agenda were is-sues discussed and worked on within the think-tank meetings. It was obvious that the old models of development that were mostly based on an engineering approach are not very suffi cient. The com-plexity of the system and its inter-relation with society require sci-entifi c methods based on facts and measurements to understand and react to the global picture and to the expected evolution.

    Internet-Society Scenarios In 2009, the Internet Society (ISOC) [17] provided EIFFEL with an illus-tration of possible forms of evolu-tion based on an Internet Futures Scenarios exercise. This exercise produced four visions of the future in which different stakeholders in-

    terests achieve dominance in the Future Internets development. The scenarios are presented in Fig. 1, and illustrate possible designs around two axes that point to dif-ferent outcomes. The vertical axis designates whether the Future In-ternet will remain true to the old Open Internet Model (generative, rather than reductive). The hori-zontal axis designates whether it will become distributed and de-centralized (rather than under the command and control of regimes). These axes represent two key areas of external world confl icts (social and economic) between Internet stakeholders, impacting the de-ployed Internet reality. Together they delineate four quadrants, each of which can be described as an il-lustrative scenario.

    The quadrants between the two axes refl ect the effects of mis-alignments in the incentives of the Future Internet. The main incen-tives and what drives the stakehold-ers actions are presented in Table I. The columns catagorize the major

    Fig. 1. ISOC Future-Internet scenarios.

    Internet Futures ScenariosWill the world embrace or resist the open Internet model? What model will be more

    successful? Command and control? Or, Distributeed and Decentralized?

    Porous GardenScenario

    Moats and DrawbridgesScenario

    Common PoolScenario

    Boutique NetworksScenario






    App Storesand Closed Devices

    Client Capture

    Sticky Services


    Open Access

    Internet Model


    No Consensus

    Multiple Roots

    Tight Regulation


    Content Control







    Heavy R




    ve Stand

    ardsLight Regulation

    Open Standards


    The Internet, like any large-scale system, needs to evolve.


    stakeholders in terms of what they fear and what they are greedy for.

    Among the four quadrants, the Common Pool quadrant is the most positive with respect to the gen-erative and the distributed and decentralized properties of the Fu-ture Internet. In the Common Pool scenario, all the resources that are part of the Future Internet are made available to the overall community. This scenario can be considered as the ideal for which Internet devel-opment and deployment has always striven, though never perfectly achieved. This scenario provides the maximum fl exibility, deploy-ment, innovation, and opportuni-ties to all stakeholders. Technolo-gies are planned to be built out horizontally, rather than in full-service verticals. This quadrant is named the Common Pool to sug-gest a future where information service and application gardens will not be completely walled, but will still be somewhat restricted to particular channels.

    The Porous Garden scenario is designed around stakeholders in-centives for increased con...


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