Blog of Random Thoughts and Pictures

The CBA Network Stack prototype has been open sourced

July 9th, 2010

When starting ICT 4WARD as a project in 2008 I must admit I never thought we’d get so far as to carry out an open source release of code. Given that 4WARD was set the task of taking a clean slate approach to designing a future Internet, and one of the TSSG’s roles in this was to help develop an integrated framework to represent, design, implement and operate network architectures, then open source was not something that immediately came to the fore.
However when we went about tackling this task, Patsy grounded our thoughts in the software industry, he identified that the problem faced is not just a networking one, but a networking combined with software issue. Deploying protocols and network functions as compiled C/C++ kernel modules has the advantage of being highly efficient. Unfortunately, kernel modules that can be safely composed and reused can be quite hard to develop. Weak data typing, lack of well-defined module interfaces, possibly intricate data dependencies between modules, platform dependence, absence of fault isolation, and a development and execution environment unfamiliar to most programmers are some of the major stumbling blocks.
Photo on Flickr by anolobb
To attempt to overcome these problems Patsy wanted us to use a modern object-orientated language in order to allow the Network Architect to use a new environment to make the first prototypes of developed network solutions. Java is platform independent and has much stronger type checking than C/C++. By design, it explicitly disallows many “dangerous” operations such as reckless memory management and pointer manipulations, which one can perform with C/C++.
However in going this route clearly there are increased demands on the software product, for robustness, reliability, flexibility and ease of deployment. As these demands were growing, the complexity of the processes that the software manages is increasing along with demands for the integration of processes from different areas. As a consequence, we found the software programs becoming larger and more complex which was having a huge knock on effect when it comes to the introduction of new concepts on the networking side.
Patsy spotted that Component Based Architecture (CBA) is an approach that is used to address these demands and is core to the Component Based Software Engineering (CBSE), and so he applied this approach to the Networking Stack.
CBSE was used to model network nodes and topology. The transformation from the models to an execution environment based on Java and OSGi simplified the transition from high level networking concepts from a network architects perspective into the deployed software implementations.
From there Patsy worked on the Component-Based Architecture network stack prototype which has implemented a software component infrastructure for flexible experimentation of network protocols. The protocol components are written in Java but conform to the requirements of the CBA architecture within the Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi) framework.
So today it is a great pleasure to announce that we have released as open source the component based architecture network stack prototype.