By Leigh Howe

Plateau.   Has the Internet hit a plateau in terms of its functionality?  There is no doubt the Internet has transformed the way we communicate, shop, find information and do business.  Today more than 600 million people use the Internet to email, search, chat, buy books, and download music, among other things.  In 2003, it is estimated that $3.9 trillion in business transactions will take place over the Internet.  However, the Internet is built on infrastructure that is decades old.  Soon, technologies will enable mobile computing, instant virus protection, storing huge amounts of data, and immediate content delivery. Can the Internet as we know it support such new developments?

PlanetLab.  To prepare for these additional burdens on the Internet, companies such as Intel and Hewlett Packard, in cooperation with universities across the country, including MIT, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, have been working on a support project called PlanetLab.  This project sits on top of the Internet and promises to make it more robust, spam free, and virus free, while building faster and smarter surfing capabilities.  Currently, PlanetLab pools the resources of about 160 networked computers in 16 countries, with plans to increase that number to 1,000 machines.  The intention is to extend the infrastructure of the Internet, lower the barrier of entry to development on the Internet, and deploy a new class of services.   Right now, PlanetLab is a testbed for many new technologies and applications that can be tried out globally without affecting the Internet that we depend on.

Projects.  Some of the live projects in the PlanetLab pipeline could be killer applications in the future commercial arena.  Here are a couple of examples:

  •  NetBait, led by Intel, models the spread of worms and viruses while testing out mechanisms of defense.
  • CoDeeN, led by Princeton University, protects web servers from overload by intercepting a sudden spike in traffic and rerouting it to a backup server.

Sources and More Information.     

  •  www.technologyreview.com – MIT Technology Review Magazine
  • www.planet-lab.org/php/overview.php – PlanetLab website