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New EPSRC project on Content Centric Networking

Awarded to Prof. George Pavlou and Dr Ioannis Psaras

UCL has been recently awarded a new EPSRC project in the general area of content-oriented networking. The project's target is to develop a realistic approach for the shift to an Information-Centric Networking operation, which comes in stark contrast to the host-centric operation of today. The project is titled: "COMIT: Active Content Management at Internet Scale" and in contrast to related projects in the area, it is not following a disruptive, clean-slate approach. Instead, the concept behind COMIT is building on top of the current Internet infrastructure, but incorporates at the same time the benefits of an ICN mode of operation at an extra layer of the protocol stack.

The motivation behind COMIT is that the Internet is currently passively pushing bits between end-host machines, be it servers, fixed or mobile user devices, or sensors. The network does not "understand" what is being transferred, i.e., it is not content-aware. This agnostic mode of operation affects several of its key functionalities, for example, efficient content distribution and content-aware traffic engineering. As a result, the network is not able to cope well with the exponentially increasing amounts of multimedia content access which constitute the major mode of use in recent years. Fixed and mobile network providers keep continuously upgrading their infrastructures but the situation has become unsustainable due to their eroding profit margins. There is an urgent need to rethink traffic management under the umbrella of active content management, rather than passive content transfer, allowing ISPs to control traffic better and achieve a sustainable model for the long-term evolution of their networks. New approaches that maximise traffic localisation are essential for long-term global network sustainability.

In this context, Information-Centric Networking (ICN) has emerged as an alternative to the current host-to-host communication paradigm and proposes direct communication between user applications and the content itself, putting the actual information or content in the forefront and disregarding location. In ICN, the network transfers individual, identifiable content chunks, instead of data containers, i.e. packets, with opaque data. Contents are identified by name and relevant packets contain a part of a content chunk; the latter can be retrieved from the hosting server or from an in-network router cache, given that in-network caching is a key aspect of the ICN paradigm. Popular content tends to stay longer in network caches and "anycast routing" based on content names retrieves the closest copy to the user. This increases dramatically traffic localisation, avoids flash crowd effects and gives to network providers control over the information transferred, allowing them to engineer their networks based on the actual demand for named content.

The extra layer of the networking stack proposed in COMIT will intercept communication, will produce unique location-independent names for requested content and will store the latter within the network according to sophisticated caching policies. Content will be accessed in an anycast fashion using ICN style of operation but overlaid over IP, exploiting the existence of scalable IP-based routing, maintaining full backwards compatibility and protecting current investment. In addition, congestion control will be dealt with in a hop-by-hop rather than an end-to-end basis within the content layer, maintaining at the same time compatibility with current end-to-end operation while maximising the use of available network resources, increasing user quality of experience and paving the way for future Internet applications with stringent real-time requirements.

The principal investigator is Professor George Pavlou while the senior researcher involved is Dr Ioannis Psaras, leading the project at UCL. They both have extensive experience in the information-centric networking area and have already made significant early contributions in this research field through the previous EU FP7 COMET project (2010-2013). The COMIT project started on the 1st of January 2014, it has duration of 3 years and a total budget of £486,939.