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November 21st 2002
Computer Laboratory > Research > Systems Research Group > NetOS > Seminars > November 21st 2002

Towards a field theory for networks

Jon Crowcroft
It is often claimed that Internet Traffic patterns are interesting because the Internet puts few constraints on sources. This leads to innovation. It also makes the study of Internet traffic, what we might call the search for the Internet Erlang, very difficult. At the same time, traffic control (congestion control) and engineering are both hot topics. What if ``flash crowds'' (a.k.a. slashdot), cascades, epidemics and so on are the norm? What if the trend continues for network link capacity to become flatter, with more equal capacity in the access and core, or even more capacity in the access than the core (as in the early 1980s with 10Mbps LANs versus Kbps links in the ARPANET)? How could we cope? This is a paper about the use of field equations (e.g. gravitational, electrical, magnetic, strong and weak atomic and so forth) as a future model for managing network traffic. We believe that in the future, one could move from this model to a very general prescriptive technique for designing network control on different timescales, including traffic engineering and the set of admission and congestion control laws. We also speculate about the use of the same idea in wireless networks.