Illinois Tech to Play Key Role in $20M Project to Develop the Next Internet Architecture

Internet Architecture

An Illinois Institute of Technology research fellow will co-direct a $20 million project to create a nationwide platform for testing new internet architectures that could result in faster speeds and more security. 

This week, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced funding for the FABRIC project, which is led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI). Researchers will build a scientific instrument, called FABRIC, to test new programmable and distributed network designs—unlike current architecture that is reliant on large internet and content providers. 

“Today’s internet was not built for all that we use it for now,” said Anita Nikolich, a cybersecurity research fellow in Illinois Tech’s Department of Computer Science who will serve as co-director of FABRIC. “We hope to reimagine and then test new architectures to handle today’s demands—all while improving security, increasing accessibility, and being more efficient.”

The aim is to create an architecture where computing is not only less centralized, but also less vulnerable, she said.

Nikolich—with her expertise in cybersecurity, networking, and scientific cyberinfrastructure—will spearhead outreach efforts to the cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and network research communities to ensure that the FABRIC architecture incorporates their experimentation needs. She most recently served as Program Director for Cybersecurity at the NSF. Prior to that she was Executive Director of Infrastructure at the University of Chicago, and has held a variety of technical leadership roles in industry and government.

The computer networking architectures that formed the basis for today’s internet were developed between the 1960s and 1980s. That fundamental architecture hasn’t changed much, but users’ needs have changed. Today’s internet was not designed for the massive data sets, machine learning tools, advanced sensors, and Internet of Things devices. 

“Illinois Tech is an ideal partner for FABRIC,” said Shlomo Engelson Argamon, interim chairman of Illinois Tech’s computer science department. “This ambitious project dovetails perfectly with the new paths we are forging in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and data science.”

The FABRIC project will test new architectures on a nationwide scale, using dedicated high-speed optical links and programmable hardware. One of the core nodes will be in Chicago. FABRIC will also connect to a cloud testbed called Chameleon, which is based out of Argonne Lab.

Other collaborating organizations include the University of Kentucky, the Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network, and Clemson University.

“We look forward to FABRIC enabling researchers throughout the nation to develop and test new networking technologies and capabilities,” said Erwin Gianchandani, acting assistant director for computer and information science and engineering at the National Science Foundation. “This project will lead to novel paradigms for next-generation networks and services, giving rise to future applications advancing science and the economy.”