'Radical rethinking' of Internet routing under way

Cisco, Juniper and others consider big changes to Internet’s core routers

Some of the world's top network engineers are engaged in a research effort that could lead to the most radical redesign of the Internet's underlying routing architecture since it was developed in the 1980s.

The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) is searching for a new routing architecture that would improve the Internet's ability to scale to support potentially billions of new users in developing countries.

The IRTF is a sister organization of the Internet Engineering Task Force, one of the Internet's leading standards bodies.

Under debate by the IRTF is how the Internet's backbone routers operate. Owned by carriers and some large corporations and government agencies, these backbone routers run the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to exchange routing information across the many interconnected networks that form the Internet.

The BGP routing table is a master list of network destinations that is stored in backbone routers and is used to determine the best available path from one network to another. Experts are worried about explosive growth in the BGP routing table, which is straining the processing and memory requirements of the Internet's core routers.

Why BGP growth matters

BGP routing table growth is significant because it drives up carrier costs, experts say.

``What CIOs really care about is the cost of their Internet connections, and if the cost of the service providers goes up because the routing table becomes unwieldy, that will lead to incremental costs for everybody,'' says Tony Li, co-chair of the IRTF's Routing Research Group. ``We're interested in avoiding that scenario.''

Slowing routing table growth would provide other benefits to enterprise network operators, too. It would make it easier to split network traffic over multiple carriers in a process called multihoming.

``One of the major causes of routing table growth is due to the pervasive practice of site multihoming," says Lixia Zhang, co-chair of the Routing Research Group. "Multihoming substantially increases the number of global routing table entries, and the Routing Research Group is working toward decoupling multihoming from the global routing table growth.''

Zhang says another benefit will be easier renumbering of networks when enterprises switch carriers.

``One of our design goals is to eliminate the need for corporations to renumber their networks when they change providers,'' she adds. ``Renumbering is considered a very expensive and complex process.''

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

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