Misconceptions over DARPA and the Internet

Wayne Rash

Over this past weekend, it came out that there is a plan by the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency to re-invent TCP/IP.

According to the information that I found, Lockheed Martin has been awarded a $31 million contract to develop a new networking protocol and new network infrastructure to go with it. The implication is that the DoD would move to a separate high-speed network with dynamic bandwidth allocation, sender authentication and other useful features.

In reality, the project isn't all that amazing. Yes, DARPA, the successor to the agency that developed TCP/IP in the first place, is looking for an upgrade that will meet the needs of the military. This is what TCP/IP and the Internet were designed to do in the first place, and with the passage of time, new capabilities are a logical move.

But it's not a replacement for the Internet. Instead, the military networking protocol, or MNP, is designed to carry network traffic over the existing Internet, but to do it in a way that authenticates the traffic and which uses new self-configuring routers and switches that will manage the military's network traffic. In other words, it's the sort of networking upgrade that most network managers in industry would also like to have. You can find the details of what DARPA has in mind here.

The stories making the rounds on the Internet are that the military is wasting vast quantities of money in a effort to get themselves free of the Internet. The reality is exactly the opposite. The military is looking for a way to leverage the existing Internet in such a way that it gets secure, reliable communications with real authentication. The difference between DARPA and everyone else is that DARPA has done this before, and we've all been the beneficiaries of the research.

And while MNP is designed for the specific needs of the military, you can be certain that the technology that's being designed into the routers and switches will find its way into private industry soon enough. As you've probably noticed, DARPA and DoD are constant sources of innovation that benefit all of us. You can ask your CTO how valuable the capabilities of MNP might be for your company if you'd like to know why this is important to you.

In fact, the development of MNP could well be the catalyst that makes the Internet and the cloud places where you can do business safely, securely and affordably. So despite the somewhat sensationalized stories, this might be the best thing that has come along on the Internet in a long time.

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