Dirk Kutscher

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ACM ICN-2020 Highlights

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ACM ICN-2020 took place online from September 29th to October 1st 2020. This is a quick summary of the main technical highlights from my personal perspective. Overall, it was a high-quality event, and it was great to see the progress that is being made by different teams. Here, I am focusing specifically on Architecture, Content Distribution, Programmability, and Performance. If you are interested in the complete program, all papers, presentation material, and presentation videos are available on the conference website.

Architecture

The Information-Centric Networking concept can be implemented in different ways (and some people would argue that some overlay systems for content distribution and data processing are essentially information-centric). ICN systems have often been associated with clean-slate approaches, requiring difficult to imagine fork-lift replacement of larger parts of the infrastructure. While this has never the case (because you can always run ICN protocols over different underlays or directly map the semantics to IPv6), it is still interesting to learn about new approaches and to compare existing data-oriented frameworks to pure ICN systems.

Named-Data Transport

In their paper Named-Data Transport: An End-to-End Approach for an Information-Centric IP Internet (Presentation) Abdulazaz Albalawi and J. J. Garcia-Luna-Aceves have developed an alternative implementation of the accessing named data concept called Named-Data Transport (NDT) that can leverage existing Internet routing and DNS, while still providing the general properties (accessing named-data securely, in-network caching, receiver-driven operation).

The system is based on three components: 1) A connection-free reliable transport protocol, called Named Data Transport Protocol (NDTP), 2) a DNS extension (my-DNS) for manifest records that describe content items and their chunks, and 3) NDT Proxies that act as transparent caches and that track pending requests, similar to ICN forwarders, but at the transport layer.

In NDT, content names are based on DNS domain names, and each name is mapped to an individual manifest record (in the DNS). These records provide a mapping to a list of IP addresses hosting content replicas. When requesting such records, the idea is that the system would be able apply similar traffic steering as today’s CDNs, i.e., provide the requestor with a list of topologically close locations. Producers would be responsible for producing and publishing such manifests.

The Named Data Transport Protocol (NDTP) is a receiver-driven transport protocol (on top of UDP) used by consumers and NDT Proxies which behave logically like ICN forwarders. There is more to the whole approach (such as security, name privacy etc.).

In my view, NDT is an example of a resolution-based ICN system with interesting ideas for deployability. In principle, resolution-based ICN has been pursued by other approaches before (such as NetInf). In general, these systems have a better initial deployment story at the cost of requiring additional infrastructure (and resolution steps during operation.)

RESTful Information-Centric Web of Things

In the Internet of Things, ICN has demonstrated many benefits in terms of reduced code complexity, better data availability, and reduced communication overhead compared to many vertically integrated IoT stacks and location/connection-based protocols.

In their paper Toward a RESTful Information-Centric Web of Things: A Deeper Look at Data Orientation in CoAP (presentation), Cenk Gündoğan, Christian Amsüss, Thomas C. Schmidt, and Matthias Wählisch compare a CoAP and OSCORE (Object Security for Constrained RESTFul Environments) based network of CoAP clients, servers, and proxies with a corresponding NDN setup.

The authors investigated the possibility of building a restful Web of Things that adheres to ICN first principles using the CoAP protocol suite (instead of a native ICN protocol framework). The results showed, since CoAP is quite modular and can be used in different ways, this is indeed possible, if one is willing to give up strict end-to-end semantics and to introduce proxies that mimic ICN forwarder behavior. (The paper reports on many other things, such as extensive performance measurements and comparisons.)

In my view, this is an interesting Gedankenexperiment, and there was a lively discussion at the conference. One of the discussion topics was the question how accurate the comparison really is. For example, while is is possible to construct a CoAP proxy chain that mimics ICN behavior, real-world scenarios would require additional functionality in the CoAP network (routing, dealing with disruptions etc.) that might lead to a different level of complexity (that would possibly be less pronounced in an native ICN environment).

Still, the important take-away of this paper is that some applications of CoAP & OSCORE exhibit information-centric properties, and it is an interesting question whether, for a green-field deployment, the user would not be better served by a native ICN approach.

Content Distribution

Content Distribution and ICN have a long history, sometimes challenged by some misunderstandings. Because one of the early ICN approaches was called Content-Centric Networking (CCN), it was often assumed that ICN would disrupt or replace Content Distribution Networks (CDNs) or that it was a CDN-like technology.

While ICN will certainly help with large-scale content distribution and potentially also change/simplify CDN operations, the core idea is actually about accessing named data securely as a principal network service — for all applications (that’s why Named Data Networking — NDN — is a better name).

Managed content distribution as such will continue to be important, even in an ICN world. Surely, it will enjoy better support from the network as today’s CDN can expect, thus enabling new exciting applications and simplifying operations, but I prefer avoiding the notion of ICN replacing CDN.

When looking at actual networks and applications today, it is fair to say that almost nothing works without CDN. What we are seeing today is hyperscalers and essentially all the (so-called) OTT video providers extending their systems into ISP networks, by simply shipping standalone edge caches such as Netflix OCA servers as standalone systems to ISPs.

Each of these providers have their own special requirements of how to map customers to edge caches, how to implement traffic steering etc, which is painful enough for operators already. I expect this to become even more pressing as we shift more and more linear live TV to the Internet. Flash-crowd audiences such as viewers of UEFA Champions’ League matches will require a massive extension of the already extensive edge caching infrastructure and require massive investments but also significant complexity with respect to traffic steering and guaranteeing a decent viewing experience.

In that context, it is no wonder that people try to resort to IP-Multicast for ensuring a more scaleable last-mile distribution such as this proposal by Akamai and others. Marrying IP-Multicast with a CDN-overlay is (IMO) not exactly complexity reduction, so I think we are now at a tipping point where the Internet in terms of concepts and deployable physical infrastructure can provide many cool services, but where the limited features of the network layers requires a prohibitive amount of complexity — to an extend where people start looking for better solutions.

At ICN-2020, CDN was thus discussed quite extensively again — with many interesting, complementary contributions.

Keynote by Bruce Maggs on The Economics of Content Distribution

We were extremely happy to have Bruce Maggs (Emerald Innovations, on leave from Duke University, ex NEC researcher, one of the founding employees of Akamai) delivering his keynote on the Economics of Content Delivery. In his talk Bruce explained different economic aspects (flow of payments, cost of goods sold) but also challenges for different CDN services such as live-streaming.

The take-aways for ICN were:

  • Incentives and cost must be aligned
  • Performance benefits from caching
    • Reducing latency is valuable to content providers
    • Reducing network is valuable to ISPs.
  • If there was caching at the core (in addition to the edge)
    • What is the additional benefit?
    • Who pays for that?
  • Protocol innovation is still possible
    • In the past, people thought that HTTP/TLS/TPC/IP is difficult to overcome
    • QUIC demonstrates that new protocols can be introduced

The socio-economic discussion resonated quite well with me, as some of earlier ICN projects in Europe tried to address these aspects relatively early in 2008. I believe this was due to the operator and vendor influence at the time. In retrospect, I would say that the approaches at that time were possibly too much top-down and premature (trying to revert value chains and find new business models). It is only now that we understand the economics of CDN, its complexity and real cost that (in my view) represent barriers to innovation — and that we can start to imagine actually implementing different systems.

Far Cry: Will CDNs Hear NDN’s Call?

In their paper Far Cry: Will CDNs Hear CDN’s Call? (presentation), Chavoosh Ghasemi, Hamed Yousefi, and Beichuan Zhang tried to compare NDN with enterprise CDN (a particular variant of CDN) with respect to caching and retrieval of static contents.

In their work, the authors deployed an adaptive video streaming service over three different networks: Akamai, Fastly, and the NDN testbed. They had users in four different continents and conducted a two-week experiment, comparing Quality of Experience, Origin workload, failure resiliency, and content security.

I cannot summarize of all of the results here, but the conclusions by the authors were:

  • CDNs outperform the current NDN testbed deployment in terms of QoE (achievable video resolution in a DASH-setting)
  • Origin workload and failure resiliency are mainly the products of the network design — and the NDN testbed outperforms current CDNs
  • More as an interpretation: NDN can realize a resilient, secure, and scalable content network given appropriate software and protocol maturity and hardware resources.

The paper was discussed intensively at the conference , for example, it was debated how comparable the plain NDN testbed and its network service really are — to a production-level CDN.

In my view, the value of this paper lies in the created experiment facilities and the attempt to establish some ground truth (based on current NDN maturity). I hope that this work can leverage by more experiments in the future.

iCDN: An NDN-based CDN

In their paper iCDN: An NDN-based CDN (presentation), Chavoosh Ghasemi, Hamed Yousefi, and Beichuan Zhang (i.e., the same authors), pursue a more forward-looking approach. In this paper, they develop a CDN service based on ICN mechanisms, i.e., trying to conceive a future CDN system that does not need to take the current network’s limitations into account.

One of the interesting ICN properties is that the main service of accessing named data does not require any notion of location. Sometimes people assume that an Information-Centric system always needs to map names to locators such as IP addresses, but this is a really limited view. Instead, it is possible to build the network solely on forwarding INTERESTs for named data based on forwarding information of that same namespace. A forwarder may have more than forwarding info base entry for the same name — from a consumer (application) perspective these are completely equivalent.

Because of intrinsic object security, it does not matter from which particular host a content object is served. There can be several copies — all equivalent. When creating copies of original content, e.g., by cloning a data repository, the new copy needs to be announced (by injecting routing information) , and from that point on, it is reachable without any additional management, configuration or other out-of-band mechanisms.

When applying this notion to CDN scenarios, it is easy to understand the simplification opportunities. In ICN, content repositories can be added to the network, and in-network name-based forwarding will find the closest copy automatically.

For iCDN, the authors have leveraged this basic notion and built an ICN-based CDN that does not need any client-to-cache mapping and overlay routing mechanisms. Based on that, iCDN features logical partitions and cache hierarchies for content namespaces (for acknowledging that there may be different CDN providers, hosting different content services).

iCDNs employ cache hierarchies to exploit on-path and off-oath caches without relying on application-layer routing functions. The idea was to provide a scalable, adaptive solution that can cope with dynamic network changes as well as dynamic changes in content popularity.

There are more details to this approach, and of course the debate on what is the best ICN-based CDN design has just started. Still, this paper is an interesting contribution in my view, because it illustrates the opportunities for rethinking CDN nicely.

Programmability

Programmability and ICN has two facets: 1) Implementing distributed computing with ICN (for example as in CFN — Compute-First Networking) and 2) implementing ICN with programmable infrastructure. ACM ICN-2020 has seen contributions in both directions.

Result Provenance in Named Function Networking

In their paper Result Provenance in Named Function Networking (presentation), Claudio Marxer and Christian Tschudin have leveraged their previous work on Named Function Networking (NFN) and developed a result provenance framework for distributed computing in NFN.

In this work, the authors augmented NFN with a data structure that creates transparency of the genesis of every evaluation results so that entities in the system can ascertain result provenance. The main idea is the introduction of so-called provenance records that capture meta data about the genesis of the computation result. The paper discusses integration of these records into NDN and procedures for provenance checks and trust computation.

In my view, the interesting contribution of this work is the illustration of how the general concept of provenance verification can be implemented in a data-oriented system such as the ICN-based Named Function Networking framework. The results may be (so some extend) to other ICN-based in-network computing systems, so I hope this paper will start a thread of activities on this subject.

ENDN: An Enhanced NDN Architecture with a P4-programmable Data Plane

In their paper ENDN: An Enhanced NDN Architecture with a P4-programmable Data Plane (presentation), Ouassim Karrakchou, Nancy Samaan, and Ahmed Karmouch present an NDN system that is implemented in a P4-programmable data plane, i.e., a system in which applications can interact with a control plane that configures the data plane according to the required services.

The work in this paper is based on the notion that applications specify their content delivery requirements to the network, i.e., the control plane of a network. The control plane provide a catalogue of content delivery services, which are then translated into data plane configurations that ultimately get installed on P4 switches.

Examples of such services include Content Delivery Pattern services (whether the system is based on INTEREST/DATA or some stateful data forwarding), Content Name Rewrite services (enabling the network to rewrite certain names in INTERESTs), Adaptive Forwarding services (next-hop selection) etc.

In my view, this paper is interesting because it provides a relatively advanced perspective of how applications specify required behavior to a programmable ICN network. Moreover, the authors implemented this successfully on P4 switches and described relevant lessons learned and achievements in the paper.

Performance

Performance has historically always been an interesting topic in ICN. On the one hand, ICN provides substantial performance increases in the network due to its forwarding and caching features. On the other hand, it has been shown that implementing an ICN forwarder that operates at modern network line-speeds is challenging.

NDN-DPDK: NDN Forwarding at 100 Gbps on Commodity Hardware

In their paper NDN-DPDK: NDN Forwarding at 100 Gbps on Commodity Hardware (presentation), Junxiao Shi, Davide Pesavento, and Lotfi Benmohamed present their design of a DPDK-based forwarder.

The authors have developed a complete NDN implementation that runs on real hardware and that supports the complete NDN protocol and name matching semantics.

This work is interesting because the authors describe the different optimization techniques including better algorithms and more efficient data structures, as well as making use of the parallelism offered by modern multi-core CPUS and multiple hardware queues with user-space drivers for kernel-bypass.

This work represents the first software forwarder implementation that is able to achieve 100 Gpbs without compromises in NDN protocols semantics. The authors have published the source at https://github.com/usnistgov/ndn-dpdk.

Written by dkutscher

October 4th, 2020 at 12:28 am

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