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Active networks accelerate network evolution by permitting the network infrastructure to be programmable, on a per-user, per-packet, or other basis. This programmability must be balanced against the safety and security needs inherent in shared resources. This paper describes the design, implementation, and performance of a new type of network element, an Active Bridge. The active bridge can be reprogrammed "on the fly", with loadable modules called switchlets. To demonstrate the use of the active property, we incrementally extend what is initially a programmable buffered repeater with switchlets into a self-learning bridge, and then a bridge supporting spanning tree algorithms. To demonstrate the agility that active networking gives, we show how it is possible to upgrade a network from an "old" protocol to a "new" protocol on-the-fly. Moreover, we are able to take advantage of information unavailable to the implementors of either protocol to validate the new protocol and fall back to the old protocol if an error is detected. This shows that the Active Bridge can protect itself from some algorithmic failures in loadable modules. Our approach to safety and security favors static checking and prevention over dynamic checks when possible. We rely on strong type checking in the Caml language for the loadable module infrastructure, and achieve respectable performance. The prototype implementation on a Pentium-based HP Netserver LS running Linux with 100 Mbps Ethernet LANS achieves ttcp throughput of 16 Mbps between two PCs running Linux, compared with 76 Mbps unbridged. Measured frame rates are in the neighborhood of 1800 frames per second.
D. Scott Alexander, Marianne Shaw, Scott M. Nettles, and Jonathan M. Smith, "Active Bridging", . January 1997.
Date Posted: 29 June 2007