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'Father' of the Internet sees many challenges ahead

March 9, 2009

by Mark Ollig

Recognized as one of the “Fathers of the Internet,” Vinton Cerf spoke recently at the Search Marketing Expo conference in Santa Clara, CA.

Cerf co-designed the Transmission Control Protocols/Internet Protocols (TCP/IP) and basic architecture of the Internet.

Sorry Al Gore.

He now serves as Google’s vice president and “Chief Internet Evangelist.”

So, anytime Cerf speaks, people listen.

Cerf acknowledged the current Internet is facing as complex of issues as it did 30 to 40 years ago in what he terms as the pre-Internet.

One newer technology Cerf talked about was Internet Cloud Computing.

Part of my own understanding of cloud computing tells me that instead of relying on the software programs and applications in our own personal computer or Information Technology (IT) Server’s; we would use the resources of application “clouds” available out on the Internet.

Over the Internet network, these gigantic storage servers will process, transmit, and store the information a person works with. These clouds will interconnect with other clouds in a sort of peer to peer networking scheme.

Cloud computing is thus a type of service which uses the Internet as the backbone.

Users of cloud computing includes Amazon, Google and Yahoo.

The term cloud is a metaphor for the Internet, because many network drawings of the Internet depict it as a cloud.

Cerf states, while companies are competing to make a bigger, better, and larger cloud service, fewer people are concerned with the basic mechanics of the inter-cloud and how we “. . . ensure that it all works efficiently, reliably, and securely.”

“I’m seeing a possibility of inter-cloud problems mirroring the Internet problems we had 30 or 40 years ago,” Cerf said.

Looking back 40 years ago, in 1969, Cerf, along with Bob Kahn, were trying to discover a means of connecting the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) to other independent networks.

Today’s inter-cloud communication needs to deal with security issues, along with formats and protocols. These issues, according to Cerf, should be urgently addressed.

Similar to when Cerf and Kahn were developing the inter-networking protocols for the ARPANET, Cerf points out that today’s cloud computing brings similar challenges. “You build these clouds and they know about themselves and they know about their own resources, but they don’t know about any other cloud. So the question is: how do you say ‘send this information to this cloud over here’ if there isn’t any way to call it?” Cerf asked.

Cerf spoke how the challenges don’t end with inter-cloud communication. There are other issues to consider, such as portability, mainly with the financial and health services turning more to Internet cloud computing.

With Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), Cerf explained most people assume broadcast streaming is the way of the future, but he’s not convinced. “I’m still thinking that as we get higher and higher speed access to the Internet that downloading and playing back might turn out to be just as easy and perhaps, more convenient.”

Cerf states, “Instead of being locked into watching something as it is being transmitted – which is what the traditional television model is based on – today, we are able to store videos and play them back, removing that particular binding in the television medium.”

Cerf also talked about his concerns with all the bits of information that are pouring into the Internet. He feels these bits will eventually “become rotten,” in the sense the application that was needed to interpret these bits of information will no longer be available in the far off future. Cerf calls this growing problem “bit rot.”

This was a subject of a previous column I wrote.

When considering the tremendous amount of individual user data being generated onto the Internet – and the assortment of formats used when uploading this content to the Internet – it was reassuring to learn Mr. Cerf also thinks there is a need for a strategy to create the means to read the digital information we are currently storing for future generations to use.

Vinton Cerf says, “Imagine it’s the year 3000 and you’ve just done a Google search and you turn up a 1997 PowerPoint file, and you’re running Windows 3000.” The question is, does it know how to interpret the PowerPoint file? The answer is probably no.”

In order to maintain this information according to Cerf, we need to find ways of preserving application software, operating systems, and even the mirroring of the hardware used so the application knows how to interpret it.

Will people have the technology or equipment capable of reading digitally stored information one-two-or three-hundred years from now?

A thought does come into the mind of this humble columnist.

Today, I am able to walk into my local library, pick out a book that could be well over 100 years old – and immediately begin to read it.

The only “equipment” I require are my bifocals.