Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Broadband: Creating Global Communities

The Internet is one of the most revolutionary technologies ever invented and it is destined to be the single most important technology for creating and binding communities together as well as providing the means that allow these communities to have a global presence and a voice.

Over the last few years, there has been an important paradigm shift in the way the Internet influences the lives of individuals. Web based email giant, Hotmail proved to be one of the most prolific of Internet technologies – comparable to the cell phone in terms of its adoption rate. The Internet blog is also changing the way the media works. No longer are we tied to a specific news source. Clearly some of this success is the direct result of the flexibility to access content and services from any connected terminal at any time, which is the driving force behind Google’s latest and greatest web based technologies like Google Docs and Spreadsheets. On the other hand, peer to peer file sharing networks were the reason for the sudden and explosive adoption of the mp3 audio format, and with its creation, the birth and success of the hardware to play it. Most importantly, web based videos through community projects such as YouTube have found their success and place in the global community, and with the growing demand of these technologies in terms of bit rate versus quality, a faster Internet connection directly translates to a better overall experience.

The existence of web based technologies such as e-mail, p2p and others however, do not yet scratch the surface of the innovation to be realized. The Internet is a virtual world, and the physics of this world are virtually boundless. The Internet has the potential to be a much more user oriented technology than it was meant to be. Within this community, no longer will individuals be tied to their computer. User data will be stored within the network, accessible from anywhere. Computing will be provided by the network as a service. In effect we have the most important of paradigm shifts; the network will be the method by which the user receives computing resources. The Internet will become a vast distributed network incorporating massive data centres such as those owned by Google, large intranets operated by corporations, independent computers as well as smaller, more personal devices like cell phones and this network will be managed by peer-to-peer technology.

Due to the heterogeneous nature of the nodes and complexities involved, it will likely be supported by a hybrid of p2p overlay topologies. The design should adapt to the dynamic nature of mobile nodes while providing fast look-ups and high data streaming rates. A possible solution would involve a dual overlay p2p topology with a structured overlay to support distributed hash tables among persistent nodes and an unstructured overlay that all nodes participate in for quick and flexible connectivity. Persistent connections can be limited to nodes offering computing and data storage services. They would provide a database service backed by the network search operation whose function would provide the foundation for a relational database backed network file system. Each file will have various extensible tags associated with it. The use of this data about data, or metadata in the p2p network effectively incorporates the concept of the semantic web, by creating a network that intrinsically supports its operation. Machine learning algorithms, which have been ignored mostly in the area of communication networks, can help in associating meaning to data. This extensive understanding of the data stored within the network will allow for vastly superior search speeds and more importantly, very accurate and intelligent context aware searches.

Such dramatic changes in the nature of the Internet requires cooperation of both service and network providers. These organizations must consider development and use of new hardware for fast content processing and content routing. Further processing power located at the core of the network will accelerate development and performance of future web services. Security will also be an important factor to many users and it will be partly the responsibility of network providers to address this issue in their developments. Another very important issue to keep in mind is that tomorrow's networks will clearly be much more complex. Management of these resources to provide Quality of Service guarantees is a task which is impossible without careful consideration in the design of protocols and hardware components.

This extremely flexible and secure community network will be the new core network. It will be a service oriented technology which would ideally run as a background process on potentially millions of devices world wide. Libraries, universities, corporations, Internet caf├ęs and individuals will all be a part of this community driven network. Individuals and administrators will be able to dictate the degree of participation within the community network. New applications will be designed to be run through the available services in the network leveraging the vast computing and storage of the entire network. The programs will be accessible through portals ranging from mobile web browsers for cell phones to applications that run on desktops.

The new community network will enable communities stretched across the globe to remain in contact. We have already seen that it is possible for musical bands whose members have never met to produce albums online. Why does this seem at all amazing when open source software is created, updated and maintained by a group of individuals who have potentially never met? Such collaboration is possible due to tight communities, and such access is possible because of the Internet. The next stage in computing use will be made available by the community network. It is the only technology required to remain in communication with the world and it will be the basis for a global community network that brings people together and makes technology accessible and exciting.

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