Pipeline Publishing, Volume 4, Issue 3
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Autonomic Networks - Autonomic Communication

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By Wedge Greene and Barbara Lancaster

Blue Sky Investment

The EU in the last two years has made a series of significant multi-year research investments. All these investments center on designing, prototyping and validating the concept of autonomic networks. All involve multiple partners collaborating on a project of significant scope and extreme difficulty. That the EU has made multiple overlapping grants points out both the risks and the importance of this undertaking. And the EU is not alone, universities and corporations are also organizing groups to refine their thinking and align their approaches. Within North America, many corporations we canvassed admitted programs, but declined to discuss them, classifying them as being internal and strategic. If you do not have such a program or do not now participate in one, will it cost you more in the long run than you save sitting on the sidelines? Certainly there are many places to watch and a few where you can contribute:

  • The Task Force on Autonomous and Autonomic Systems (TFAAS)
  • Autonomic Communication Forum (ACForum)
  • Autonomic Network Architecture (ANA)
  • CASCADAS:(Component-ware for Autonomic Situation-aware Communications, and Dynamically Adaptable Services)
  • Serenity
  • BIONETS (BIOlogically inspired NETwork and Services)
  • HAGGLE - An innovative Paradigm for Autonomic Opportunistic Communication

We introduce these in more detail and compare their particular emphasis and project goals at the end of the article. What we find is that they have much more in common with each other than anyone has with the way networks are architected and built today.

The origin of autonomic networks arises in the late 1990’s. During that time, some companies, notably MCI, HP and IBM, committed to a ‘vision of the future’ that embraced early versions of what has become AN. As these efforts became marketing differentiators as well as background research, many names and definitions arose. This confusion of names continues today; there are still many names – but at heart, one vision; one goal. Some of the names include:

  • Autonomic Computing / Autonomic Networks
  • Autonomous Systems
  • Ambient Intelligence (AmI) ecosystems
  • Global Service Ecosystems
  • Active Networks

AN design is really part of a long evolution in network and network device design - In solving for increased resiliency and rapid restoration, each new network platform technology gets more autonomic. But along

If you do not have such a program or do not now participate in one, will it cost you more in the long run than you save sitting on the sidelines?


this gradual evolution of increased resiliency, some designers saw a measure of diminishing returns in quality with marginal increase in the cost of each quality increment, set against increasing demands on network and service management. A new approach was needed.

Designing autonomic networks is a very big undertaking. At its core, our whole concept of ‘what is a network?’; ‘where are the corporate boundaries?’; and ‘what is network and service management?’ radically changes. AN research is a very broad activity with enormous scope – many sub-areas require significant work. Why should you attempt this? Where do you turn for inspiration? Please read on.

Nature as the model

Nature is messy – very messy. Look out your window; even if it’s a manicured corporate garden, there will be hundreds of different species performing different uncoordinated activities. Yet day after day, the view only changes in detail, not in substance. But the stresses on the environment just outside your window are severe: storms, gardening machines, invasive species, and human efforts to control what grows and where. Against all this, the wood or garden continues to function and presents much the same view day after day. It is this high-level constancy, in the midst of constant low-level changes, that has been extensively studied in recent decades by Conservation Scientists, and that intrigues the developers of next generation networks.

It is rare that any specific ecosystem in nature is broken, that the normal activities and interactions are so displaced that what we might observe in other similar climates and topologies is not evident. Small changes

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