Peer-To-Peer Networks May Be The Future Of The Internet
October 30, 2013

In Pursuit Of The Future Internet

Enid Burns for – Your Universe Online

The Internet continues to evolve, and engineers are working on new infrastructure that could facilitate better service. A new European Union-funded project called "Pursuit" is working on new protocols that will allow content to be accessed on a peer-to-peer basis, rather than the need to access a server.

The "Pursuit" project is being developed as a proof-of-concept model for overhauling the existing structure of the Internet Protocol (IP) layer. Currently the structure requires isolated networks to be connected, which the researchers call "internetworked."

Pursuit Internet, as engineers at the University of Cambridge are calling it, will enable more socially minded and intelligent system interactions. The new system will allow users to obtain information without needing direct access to servers where the content is initially stored. By sharing information from one user's computer to another, researchers argue that the user has more control of information. One example, provided in an animated video, is of a patient wearing a heart rate monitor that must be connected to the Internet for the doctor to access data. Using Pursuit Internet, the patient can allow access to just the doctor and emergency care workers. It is explained that such parameters are not possible currently, where the patient's information and privacy settings are stored on a server instead of the patient's computer.

The new system allows full or partial access to content. "Individual computers would be able to copy and republish content on receipt, providing other users with the option to access data, or fragments of data, from a wide range of locations rather than the source itself. Essentially, the model would enable all online content to be shared in a manner emulating the 'peer-to-peer' approach taken by some file-sharing sites, but on an unprecedented internet-wide scale," a document on the research said.

The engineers behind Pursuit Internet believe such an infrastructure would make the Internet faster, more efficient, and more capable of withstanding rapidly escalating levels of global user demand. Information delivery would also not be prone to server crashes.

While a peer-to-peer model might allow faster access to information published on the Internet, there are limitations. If data is stored on a computer - whether it is medical information, a website or other content - it is subject to that person's computer being on and operational.

Engineers working on the prototype argue that Pursuit Internet focuses on information rather than web addresses or URLs to access content, which makes digital content more secure. "They envisage that by making individual bits of data recognizable, that data could be 'fingerprinted' to show that it comes from an authorized source," the report said.

Senior researcher at the University of Cambridge Computer Lab Dr. Dirk Trossen serves as technical manager for Pursuit. "The current internet architecture is based on the idea that one computer calls another, with packets of information moving between them, from end to end. As users, however, we aren't interested in the storage location or connecting the endpoints. What we want is the stuff that lives there," he said.

"Our system focuses on the way in which society itself uses the Internet to get hold of that content. It puts information first. One colleague asked me how, using this architecture, you would get to the server. The answer is: you don't. The only reason we care about web addresses and servers now is because the people who designed the network tell us that we need to. What we are really after is content and information," Dr. Trossen continued.

The Pursuit team won the Future Internet Assembly (FIA) award in May of this year after demonstrating applications that will benefit from Pursuit Internet such as searching for and retrieving information online.

Pursuit Internet removes the need for a website URL, or Uniform Resource Locator. It instead replaces the URL with a URI, or Uniform Resource Identifiers. These URIs would be highly specific identifiers which enable the system to work out what the information or content is. If enacted, Pursuit Internet will change the way in which information is routed and forwarded online.

"Under our system, if someone near you had already watched that video or show, then in the course of getting it their computer or platform would republish the content," Trossen said. "That would enable you to get the content from their network, as well as from the original server."

"Widely used content that millions of people want would end up being widely diffused across the network. Everyone who has republished the content could give you some, or all of it. So essentially we are taking dedicated servers out of the equation," Trossen continued.

The pursuit of Pursuit Internet might turn the Internet into a large peer-to-peer network.

"With a system like the one we are proposing, the whole system becomes sustainable," Trossen said. "The need to do something like this is only going to become more pressing as we record and upload more information."