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Evolutionary in Technology, Revolutionary in Impact

An interview with Ken Klingenstein, Internet2 Director of Middleware and Security

Ken Klingenstein has led national networking initiatives for the last 25 years. He's participated in the development of the Internet from its inception and says he's had one of the best seats to watch the evolution of network infrastructure and applications. Campus Technology asked Klingenstein about trends higher education IT should watch for.

What are the most important trends today in network infrastructure and applications, and what should campus IT leadership be preparing for over the next 5-10 years? One of the ways that the Internet succeeded in its early days, was through the fact that it was an unimpeded wire--it had the feel of one wire between you and the other side. And that wire, which is also known as transparency, meant that the two folks on either end of that wire could invent whatever they wanted to because they had a direct connection. But, that has changed dramatically. There are now network address translators in every cable box, and in houses, etc. It isn't a transparent network anymore, so innovation can't really happen in the same environment it did early on. So, one of the major themes going forward in the next 5-10 years will be to securely reintroduce transparency back into the network. The people creating the next generation of Internet are looking at what they call trust-mediated transparency, so that we get back to the transparency that will allow innovation.

Dynamic network capabilities are going to be an important theme. There's a new class of collaboration among scientists that radically changes the pattern of traffic flow that we've seen in the Internet so far, and introduces a burst of traffic unlike anything else we've ever seen. Think of a hundred scientists wanting to have access to two petabytes of data, and they all want it now. That's going to require us to create a new dynamic capability for provisioning network capacity over the next 5-10 years. The radically new capability may not even be TCP/IP when we get done with it, to allow this kind of massive burst of data and a limited high-performance mesh capability to the Internet.

We're going to have to learn how to manage privacy in an international world. We've already hit the issue of when a user in the EU wants to come to a protected Wiki at a university in the US. So I think that one of the aspects of the frontier in collaboration is to learn how to handle privacy and security on a global level. And we're just beginning that climb.

Finally, I think in fact the whole social networking phase that we've gone through, as unplumbed and chaotic as it has been, with flicker and delicious and myspace and facebook--name all the tools--I think those were harbingers of the rise of sharing and content on the network, but they were done in an ad hoc fashion. We're going to need to add some rivers of consistency across the vast space of collaboration applications that are being provided to us.

Given all these areas for development, will there need to be a more hierarchical structure to Internet applications? How will all of this change be managed? As you engage in all of these collaborative applications going forward, we don't think there's going to be an uber-app--there's not going to be one application sitting on top that controls and presents everything. Instead, you're going to wind up using a bucket of apps. And you're going to want to have some consistency across those apps. We are just now starting to understand some of the consistencies of experience that users will need going forward--having a consistent search experience, for example, so that the commands that one uses to manage search in Google would be similar to those on the desktop. [Other examples are] consistent metadata and digital objects. I think it's those rivers of consistency of experience that we need to really move ahead on in those next few years of frontier, and it's part of the collaboration infrastructure out there.

A last thing I want to mention goes back to the problem of an embedded base. There was a parable I heard about 15 years ago when we were debating as a community some changes to TCP/IP that eventually resulted in IPv6. During the debate period, there was a lot of tension among various ideas being floated. And I remember one day hearing that a newspaper had written that there was a big clash of intellectual titans going on. One of the titans happened to drive their car into a repair shop that day, and the guy in the repair shop said, "Isn't that you in this newspaper article?" The driver said, "Yes, that's me." And the repairman went on, "What's so hard about all this? It's like you're just going to take out the spark plugs and put in new ones, right?" And the driver's response was, "Well yeah, but try to do that with the engine running." I think that illustrates a lot of what our challenge is right now. We have a lot of infrastructure that's built one way. And we're trying to add security, privacy, and a consistent set of experiences. But we can't stop the engine while this is happening. So, I think this has led us to look for approaches that are evolutionary in technology and revolutionary in impact. That's a tough bill to meet.

[Editor's note: Ken Klingenstein will give the opening keynote, "Leading in a New IT Environment," at Campus Technology 2007 in Washington, DC, July 30-August 2.]

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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