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Intel, HP to Commercialize PlanetLab

SAN FRANCISCO -- A high-tech consortium led by Intel and HP is looking to capitalize on an additional layer of protocol services they claim will streamline Internet traffic.

The problem, however, is that the technology would sit on an infrastructure that is more than 30 years old in some places.

The two companies announced at Intel's bi-annual Developers Forum here today a joint effort to build on the PlanetLab infrastructure. Though it is still in the R&D stage, the companies said they want to change the Internet from a data transmission pipe into a platform for hosting what the two companies call "planetary-scale services."

In addition to spearheading the efforts, the companies said they will also develop beta versions of various services and products. NEC , AT&T , French Telecom and Google have also thrown their wallets into the ring in support of the project.

Calling it sort of an "Adaptive Akamai," Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger said the vision of the blueprint is an overlay network of computational and storage services that could provide a platform on which Web services can run and a way to connect grid computing sites and utility data centers. It sits above the new physical infrastructure supplied by Internet2 and above the networking layer where IPv6 functions.

"These new smart services could allow the Internet to detect and warn of worm attacks on its own, dynamically re-route network traffic to avoid delays and improve video Web casting," Gelsinger said during his keynote. "They could also be used to make accessibility easier for users in regions of the world where power and connectivity are unreliable at best."

In an example of how it works, Gelsinger configured six parallel streams into one signal, thereby allowing the core data center to think there is less disparate traffic on the network.

Currently, PlanetLab is an overlay network of computational services and an open, global test bed for developing new Internet technologies.

In addition to Intel, 150 of the world's top universities and industrial research labs are already members of PlanetLab, including AT&T Labs, Cambridge University, France Telecom, HP, NEC Labs, Princeton University, and UC Berkeley, along with national research education networks in Brazil, Canada and China, as well as the Internet2 organization. In two short years, the project has blossomed from 101 machines to 440 nodes in 2004.

To date, more than 70 research projects at top academic institutions including MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Princeton and the University of Washington have used PlanetLab to experiment with such diverse topics as distributed storage, network mapping, peer-to-peer systems, distributed hash tables and distributed query processing.

But while the original PlanetLab was born out of academia, Intel and HP's service version is seeking a more marketable future -- even dovetailing into HP's Adaptive Enterprise utility computing model.

Gelsinger said his so-called "New Net" has already been able to "develop powerful results," and like the current Internet, does not limit itself to only Intel's chips or HP's servers.

"We think that justifies putting in place early commercialization," Gelsinger said.

Gelsinger said the consortium was also careful not to replace the work being done by the Internet2 project or the group in charge of IPv6. On the contrary, Gelsinger managed to entice "father of the Internet" Vint Cerf on stage to show that Intel has the support of the old guard.

"When I told him about it, he [Cerf] said, 'You're not going to tell me that IPv6 is a bad idea are you?'" Gelsinger recalled. "I told him, 'No we think it is a good idea, but we can't uniformly rely on that as the only answer.'"

But even Cerf, who serves as senior vice president of technology strategy at MCI, said the Internet is in its infancy and that underlying infrastructure can improve. Gordon Haff, an industry analyst with Illuminata, suggests the PlanetLab initiative has a lot to prove.

"They certainly make the assumption that you would get a better experience or more functionality," Haff told internetnews.com. "It seems to me like that would require a separate set of unique IP addresses. That is something that IPv4 cannot deliver. Where the services could run on either of the IP infrastructures but would be more optimized to run on IPv6, I could see how something like Pat [Gelsinger's] idea would make sense."

As for the next phase, Gelsinger said Public Broadcasting television has already been working with Intel on the design of ACE, an integrated digital system for automating and monitoring the broadcast operations of participating PBS member stations using HP computer systems.

In another example, Gelsinger described a joint research project occurring this summer between Intel and British Petroleum, where the oil company is using a wireless sensor network to monitor the continuous vibration of the engines on one of BP's crude oil tankers.