The Next Internet? Inside PARC’s Vision of Content Centric Networking

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the office network pulls the stored data directly from your phone. “Using smartphones as hubs, we are looking at how CCN can allow data to be gathered, contextualized, and shared in a secure fashion,” says Singh.

Members of the Emerging Network Consortium also have some very different applications in mind, including using CCN-based networks to ease the burden on cellular networks. That could work either by using CCN-based networks for “backhaul” of data between wireless towers, or by offloading mobile data from 3G and 4G networks onto CCN-based Wi-Fi networks. “Voice over CCN” is another possibility, as are lighting and environmental control systems for buildings and home media sharing—pairing TVs, PCs, tablets, and smartphones with one another without the need for a central Wi-Fi hub.

Twitter Without Twitter, Facebook Without Facebook

If it all sounds very speculative, that’s because it is. At this stage, companies like Samsung may be investigating CCN mainly as a hedge against uncertainty. “The technology industry is so fast-paced that they know that whatever their cash cow is this year, in five to 10 years it’s going to be something else,” says Lunt. “They have to be constantly looking for the next big thing … Samsung makes equipment for carriers, they make handsets, they make consumer devices. CCN could mean a whole new set of businesses for them.”

But Content Centric Networking could also mean a whole new set of challenges for companies in the content business. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Netflix, and their ilk have spent hundreds of billions of dollars building siloed, centralized, proprietary storage and distribution infrastructures, designed wholly around the client-server model and often reachable only via tollbooths like the iTunes Store or Xbox Live. (See my colleague Greg Huang’s recent take on the Four Horsemen of the Consumer Apocalypse.)

In a CCN world, consumers would probably still have to look at ads and pay for movies, music, books, apps, and the like, but they might not be so dependent upon a few giant cloud operators.

“One of the things that’s intriguing about not having to go to the source is that you could start to think about implementing applications differently,” Lunt says. “You could build apps that don’t have any notion of a server at all. So you could have Twitter without Twitter or Facebook without Facebook—that is, without having to have a major investment in hosting content, because the network is caching it all over the place.”

Such architectures might give users more control over privacy and security of their data, and let them share their own data across devices without having to go through proprietary services like Apple’s iCloud, PARC executives say.

“What Apple is trying to do with iCloud is to say: You shouldn’t have to care which device you got an app on, or which device you took a photo on, whether it was your iPad or iPhone or MacBook Air. You just want your content to be on the other devices when you want it,” says Steve Hoover, CEO of PARC. “That validates our vision. But the way they are solving that puts more load on the network than it needs to, and it requires consumer lock-in. So Apple may be a user of this [CCN] technology one day, because it will make it easier. On the other hand, they could also hate it, because it will make it a lot easier for other people to provide that capability of getting the content whenever you want.”

Already, there’s at least one startup, Cambridge, MA- and New York-based Silver Lining Systems, that says it’s using concepts from Content Centric Networking to solve performance problems in data centers and virtualized computing environments. (The company includes former Verizon, Netezza, and Endeca executives, according to the Boston Globe. It isn’t working directly with PARC.) The CCN initiative could eventually lead to PARC spinoffs as well, though nothing formal is in the works. “There could be a B2C play, an Akamai for consumers,” Hoover speculates. “Right now, for example, I have photos on Photobucket, Shutterfly, and Flickr, and I have to think about where those photos are before I can go get them. Somebody could build a CCN layer that interfaces with every photo-sharing service out there, and every time you upload a photo, they manage that for you.”

How much might consumers be willing to pay for such a service? It’s hard to know until someone builds it. Hoover says PARC’s job is to help companies move in that direction.

“When Bob Metcalfe sat in this building and drew Ethernet on a paper napkin, there wasn’t even an Internet, so nobody could have predicted that the business model [for the Internet] was going to be Google search and advertising,” Hoover says. “We can sit here and speculate about where the tollbooths will go, but to me, it’s more about whether there are pockets of money out there ready to address problems that people have now. The tollbooths will go where they need to be.”

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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