This article is published in the November 2005 issue.

NSF/CISE Plans GENI Initiative

CISE is planning an initiative called “Global Environment for Networking Investigations” (GENI) to explore new networking and other capabilities that will advance science and stimulate innovation and economic growth. The GENI Initiative responds to an urgent and important challenge of the 21st century to improve significantly the capabilities provided by networking and distributed system architectures.

The GENI Initiative envisions the invention of and experimentation with new networking architecture paradigms and associated services to show the way to the networking and distributed system architectures of ten to twenty years from now that, for example:

  • Build in security and robustness;
  • Enable the vision of pervasive computing and bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds by including mobile, wireless, and sensor networks;
  • Enable control and management of other critical infrastructures;
  • Include ease of operation and usability; and
    Enable new classes of societal-level services and applications.

At the same time, we intend that it will provide a platform for innovative research in a number of CSE fields such as databases, operating systems, languages, and control systems—much as the original Internet has spurred research in everything from theory to chips. What will result in the broader sweep of CSE research is, of course, unforeseeable.

The GENI Initiative comprises two components: the GENI Research Program and the experimental GENI Facility. It is intended to catalyze a broad community effort that will engage other agencies, other countries, and corporate entities.

Networking research that is the core of and reason for this Initiative will focus on designing new network architectures and services by rethinking network functions; designing in key capabilities such as security, robustness, and economic viability; and including applications and new technologies as design components. Technologies may range from new wireless and sensor devices to customized routers and optical switches to control and management software. Research will call on multiple disciplines to explore a spectrum of areas from large-scale distributed services to high-level policy (e.g., network access).

Beyond the core focus on networking, we can envision broader research on:

  • Core theory: expanding information theory and formulating a new communication framework, considering the temporal and spatial distribution of information and power; viewing electromagnetic spectrum as a natural resource, investigating relationships to theoretical foundations of social computing, microeconomics, and biology; developing an evolution theory for computing and learning with mobile information sources; establishing the role of location from spatial behavior of propagation to “place.”
  • Fundamental algorithms, such as cooperative communications, scalable security, scalable compression, signal-processing techniques to support content analysis; studies on the tradeoff between communication versus computation and storage; models for mobility enhanced information dissemination.
  • Applications, including multimedia signal processing; wireless communications; mobile and sensor devices; ad hoc networks.

To have significant impact, innovative research and design ideas must be implemented, deployed, and tested in realistic environments involving significant numbers of users and hosts. The initiative includes the deployment of a state-of-the-art, global experimental GENI Facility that will permit exploration and evaluation of new concepts and systems under realistic conditions. The GENI Facility will permit a range of researchers—including network engineers, policy analysts, protocol designers, system architects, and economic modelers—to contribute to and study innovative new capabilities for the global network of the future.

One approach for a GENI Facility would enable:

  • Shared use through slicing and virtualization in time and space domains (i.e., where “slice” denotes the subset of resources bound to a particular experiment);
  • Access to physical facilities through programmable platforms (e.g., via customized protocol stacks);
  • Large-scale user participation by “user opt-in” and IP tunnels;
  • Protection and collaboration among researchers by controlled isolation and connection among slices;
  • A broad range of investigations using new classes of platforms and networks, a variety of access circuits and technologies, and global control and management software; and
  • Interconnection of independent facilities via federated design.

The GENI Facility will leverage the best ideas and capabilities from existing network test beds such as PlanetLab, ORBIT, WHYNET, Emulab, X-Bone, DETER and others. However, the GENI Facility will need to extend beyond these test beds to create an experimental infrastructure capable of supporting the ambitious research goals of the GENI Initiative.

The GENI Initiative builds on the extensive experience of the broad research community and two decades of NSF-supported networking research. A number of activities are part of the GENI planning process:

  • CISE has supported numerous community workshops and is supporting ongoing planning efforts, including needs assessment and requirements for the GENI Facility.
  • CISE will hold town meetings and continue to support future workshops to broaden community participation. CISE will work with industry, other US federal and local agencies, and international organizations to broaden participation in GENI beyond NSF and the US government.

While there is an obvious, compelling, and fairly specific objective of the initiative in the near- and mid-term, we hope that it can help raise the sights for research in CSE in general and serve as a milieu for exploring fundamental questions in most areas of our field. There is a lot of work to be done to bring this about and it will take the support and cooperation of all areas, not just networking researchers.

For additional information see or send comments to
Peter A. Freeman is Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation for CISE.

NSF/CISE Plans GENI Initiative