FIRE – Future Internet Research and Experimentation – is a crucial initiative launched and financed by the European Commission that has been growing since its inception in 2010 with the ambition of being Europe’s Open Lab for Future Internet research, development and innovation.
FIRE offers cutting edge test facilities that could not be accessible otherwise by many European players. FIRE, by embracing several related Horizon 2020 initiatives and vertical segments, including 5G, Smart Cities, Manufacturing, eHealth, etc., offers the unique possibility to experiment with networks, infrastructures and tools in a multidisciplinary test environment. This is key to investigating and experimentally validating highly innovative and revolutionary ideas for next generation networking and service paradigms at a lower cost, in a more rapid way.
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The Internet, as we know it today, is almost 30 years old and has become a global success story. It began in the 1980s with research networks, with few users and limited economic impact, then in the 90s came the second generation of commercial services, which led to a traffic explosion and increased its economic impact. Today’s Internet has become the engine for networked innovation and a ‘highway’ to globalisation and circulation of services and knowledge. Its size, complexity and the role it plays in modern society has far exceeded the expectations of its creators. It is a complicated and constantly expanding structure that has become an essential part of our lives, work, communication and entertainment. The Internet has become a critical infrastructure both from a social and economic perspective.
Although the original Internet design has successfully enabled multiple waves of innovation, novel societal and commercial usages are continuing to push the original Internet architecture to its limits. Not only are the basic Internet protocols now 30 years old and the Internet scale has increased by many orders of magnitude, but it has also accreted hundreds of additional protocols and extensions, which make its management more and more complex. Unforeseen and extremely useful and popular applications, such as skype, wikipedia, facebook, and you tube, have sprung up and steered the use of the Internet into directions which were not initially anticipated, posing demanding technological and policy challenges in different domains, such as security, mobility, heterogeneity, ad hoc connections and complexity.
The solutions found so far to address these concerns are seen by some observers as ‘patches’, which cannot last forever, and which will require a radical redesign or change of paradigms in the mediumor long-term. In recent years, a number of researchers and industries worldwide have started considering radically new approaches to Internet design, sometimes called ‘clean slate’. At the same time, other observers affirm that the current Internet is instead fully scaleable, some even suggesting that efforts to impose a new architecture are the biggest threat to long-term stability and growth.
The key issues related to the future of the Internet go far beyond the technological dimension. There are strong economic, social and even ethical dimensions. Freedom of speech, distributed user-generated encyclopaedia and new applications have had a profound cultural and economic impact in nearly every sector of our societies. Social networking sites are attracting hundreds of millions of users worldwide, mostly young people. Plus, the increasing availability of user-generated content fuels the ‘Web 2.0’ revolution and generates complex challenges related to security, privacy and Intellectual Property Rights.
Everybody, the wider public, the policy-makers, and even researchers themselves, should be aware of the possible positive and negative effects and impacts of various technological choices, which face us. In particular it is important to maintain a business perspective in Future Internet research, to fully involve industry and end-users in the research and innovation cycle, and to ensure that the regulatory and legislative agenda moves accordingly.
Many researchers around the world have identified the above mentioned emerging limitations of the current Internet architecture and agree that it is time for research to take a fresh, long-term view considering the Internet as a complex system, which cuts across layers from network connectivity to service architectures. This system-level approach calls for strategic, multidisciplinary research on new Internet concepts, including ‘clean slate’ or ‘disruptive’ ones. In order to measure, compare and validate scientific results and also to provide a realistic basis for a scientifically rigorous impact assessment at technological, economic and social levels, these new paradigms need to be tested on a large scale. Issues at stake are for example: the balance between intelligence in the core versus in the edges; network neutrality and the end-to-end principle; the integration of network, compute and services infrastructures; trust and security by design; or the use of open source and open standards.
For this kind of ‘experimentally-driven research’ related to the Future Internet, researchers need an experimental facility for validating innovative research and developments on network and service architectures and paradigms. History has shown that many occurrences are only discovered when systems are deployed in ‘real-life’ situations. For instance, experimentally-driven security research should include experimentation with intentionally and unintentionally misbehaving programs and machines in a large, heterogeneous, real world-like testbed environment, which is nevertheless isolated from the outside world. Such experiments need to be conducted in a planned,controlled, responsible and legal manner. An experimental facility on Future Internet technologies must broadly support research on networks and services, in order to compare current and future approaches. Practical experiments are needed to give credibility and raise the level of confidence in the research finding. Furthermore, the experimentation must be performed on a large scale to be representative, convincing, and to prove the scalability of the tested solution. Experimental facilities based on federating testbeds at different levels of maturity, from proof-of-concept to validation, are needed to test compatibility, interoperability and to derive potential migration paths for innovative technologies.
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