Active networking : one view of the past, present, and future

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communication system software
communication systems
programming operating systems
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Nettles, Scott M.

All distributed computing systems face the architectural question of the location (and nature) of programmability in the telecommunications networks, computers, and other peripheral devices comprising them. The perspective of this paper is that network elements should be as programmable as possible, to enable the most flexible distributed computing systems. There has been a persistent confluence among operating systems, programming languages, networking and distributed systems. We demonstrate how these interactions led to what is called "active networking", and in the spirit of "vox audita perit, littera scripta manet" (the spoken word perishes, but the written word remains), include an account of how it was made to happen. Lessons are drawn both from the broader research agenda, and the specific goals pursued in the SwitchWare project. We speculate on likely futures for active networking.

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Copyright 2004 IEEE. Reprinted from IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, Part C: Applications and Reviews, Volume 34, Issue 1, February 2004, pages 4-18. Publisher URL: This material is posted here with permission of the IEEE. Such permission of the IEEE does not in any way imply IEEE endorsement of any of the University of Pennsylvania's products or services. Internal or personal use of this material is permitted. However, permission to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution must be obtained from the IEEE by writing to By choosing to view this document, you agree to all provisions of the copyright laws protecting it.
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