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NetVolution: Α new ERC starting grant was awarded to FORTH-ICS

Sep 03, 2013

A new distinction for FORTH, Greece's major Research Centre, came through the recent approval by the ERC (European Research Council) of one more proposal that was submitted by Dr. Xenofontas Dimitropoulos of FORTH's Institute of Computer Science (ICS). This ERC grant will fund Dimitropoulos' "NetVolution" project, to perform research on evolving the routing system of the Internet. ERC starting grants are considered highly honorary: they are given for cutting edge research and they are very competitive -- in 2013, out of 3,329 proposals that were submitted Europe-wide and across all disciplines, only 287 were accepted, i.e. just nine percent (9%); only two (2) of these 287 approved grants are given to researchers in Greek institutions, and "NetVolution" is one of the two. Dr. Dimitropoulos is repatriating to Greece, coming to FORTH and the University of Crete, where he has been elected Assistant Professor, leaving his position with ETH Zurich.

The Internet is an enormous ecosystem of tens of thousands of independent domains that coordinate in an entirely distributed fashion through the Internet routing system. A major challenge that often surprises is that it is not possible to innovate in its core components, like the Internet Protocol (IP) and the Internet routing system. These components were designed almost 40 years ago and since then they have not changed much. Although they have greatly helped in the success of the Internet, the rapid evolution of the Internet has also revealed a number of limitations. The Internet routing system, which is the focus of this project, is the “glue” that holds the Internet together. The inability to accommodate innovation in the Internet routing system is an important problem because it perpetuates a number of security and reliability weaknesses. To give an example of the importance of the problem: in 2010, a Chinese Internet Service Provider hijacked hundreds of thousands of IP addresses that belonged to third parties, causing a massive outage that took down significant parts of the entire Internet. Furthermore, similar incidents have happened repeatedly in the past and they continue to happen. These events are a direct consequence of the insecurity of the Internet routing system.

The objective of NetVolution is to foster innovation in the Internet routing system. NetVolution will exploit Software Defined Networking (SDN), a paradigm shift that is happening during the last few years in the area of computer networks that makes networks more programmable. Network programmability has been a holy grail for computer networks for many years and it is presently becoming a reality with strong support from the industry. This gives a unique opportunity to fix the problems of the Internet routing system.

The novel idea behind NetVolution is to migrate routing intelligence from network nodes (e.g., routers and switches), which are currently closed systems that cannot accommodate innovation, towards a new type of outsourcing service provider that operates a multi-domain network operating system and uses it to optimize the operation of the networks of its clients. With the multi-domain network operating system it becomes easier to introduce new routing features simply as applications that run on top and to improve the present Internet routing system. Outsourcing enables economies of scale and therefore provides an opportunity for reducing network management costs. This way, NetVolution provides both economical and technical incentives for evolving the Internet routing system, while it retains backwards compatibility with the present status quo. The key outcomes of NetVolution will be a multi-domain network operating system, applications that will run on top and will improve the security and reliability of the Internet routing system, and a new economic model for the optimization of the operation of networks.

Contact: Dr. Xenofontas Dimitropoulos,