LOS ANGELES — Participants at the Open Networking Summit were treated to an encouragement talk today by Vint Cerf, VP and chief internet evangelist with Google, who is recognized as one of the fathers of the internet.
“You are in a position now with technology that you have available to almost restart this whole internet adventure,” he said. “You have a very different kind of platform to explore functionality.”
Cerf said that in the early days of the internet, engineering students would be taught how to build routers. But then big technology companies started making proprietary routers, and “we lost a couple of generations of students with deep knowledge of how routers work.”
Now, with open source, routing and switching is being re-visited. And this openness is exposing new functionality and opportunity.
With the control plane and the data plane separated and with open interfaces, “We should be looking at ways disaggregation creates opportunities for us,” Cerf said. “If we look at the way a switch is being built today, it doesn’t do anything until we tell it what to do with the packets. It allows an opportunity to mix switches in a common network.”
He said that by using the P4 language, for example, it’s possible to run programs in multiple clouds because of the compatibility across clouds that’s created via P4.
Software-defined networking (SDN) and open source technologies are giving internet innovation the same feel it had back in the early days when standards, protocol architectures, and business models were largely a free-for-all. “It was a very big-tent model,” said Cerf. “No one was compelled to choose anything particular.”
He did acknowledge the dark side to all this freedom. “We were hoping that by lowering the barriers to access of this technology we would open the floodgates for sharing of content,” he said. “But there is a side effect of reducing those barriers. And that’s what we’re living through right now: fake news with echo-chamber effects; a variety of malware. Engineers can’t guess exactly what all the side effects are.”
He also noted that while there were no standards in the early-internet days, standards are a necessity. “Some people get nervous because standards are stifling and rigid,” he said. “But the other side of the argument is standards create commonality.”
But getting back to the encouragement, Cerf said, “You have freedom that was lost in the time when routing engines were kind of locked up and hidden. I almost envy you that you will ignite a whole new area of network capability. My advice to you is to take advantage of that.”