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Professor Nick McKeown calls for return to a ‘simple’ and ‘dumb’ internet at IET Appleton lecture

May 6, 2014

Esteemed professor and entrepreneur claims router vendors are making the internet overly complex and asserts that software defined networking (SDN) is the future London, UK, 6th May 2014 - Internet networks are being unnecessarily complicated by router vendors looking to protect their own interests, claims Nick McKeown, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Stanford University. Speaking at the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET ( Appleton prestige lecture last Thursday, he called for the return of a ‘simple’ and ‘dumb’ internet that was easy to manage and argued that software defined networking (SDN) would make this possible.

SDN is when the network software is separated from the hardware that forwards packets. The software runs on regular servers, which can be programmed through an SDN controller using an industry standard control protocol such as ‘OpenFlow’. SDN software can control any OpenFlow -enabled network device from any vendor – including switches, routers, and virtual switches.

“Although the original infrastructure of the internet was simple and streamlined, router vendors – or ‘Masters of Complexity’ – have made networking incredibly complicated,” said Professor McKeown. “Their aim is to prevent competitors from entering the market, resulting in a less reliable and less secure internet whose growth has been restricted.”

Drawing comparison with the computing industry’s evolution from one that was closed and vertically-integrated to one that is open and horizontal, Professor McKeown illustrated that networking is set to follow a similar path, but he anticipates resistance from the major vendors. Recounting his experience trying to sell the concept of SDN to a room full of Cisco executives, he explained that not only did they not believe that the technology would work but, more importantly, they didn’t want it to.

Despite this opposition, Professor McKeown believes that the transition to SDN is inevitable, as the technology enables organisations to take control of their networks, improving and tailoring them to meet their specifications. They can also adapt and upgrade networks quickly and easily without affecting reliability. Companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter are deploying SDN, while major telecom companies such as AT&T and China Telecom are following suit.

“SDN has the potential to revolutionise the way we access the internet and we are delighted to have an industry visionary such as Professor McKeown speak at one of our prestige lectures,” said Seb Ives, Group Manager, IET. “This is one industry in particular where there is an incredible opportunity for young software engineers and computer scientists, and we hope this lecture highlights the potential for them in this sector.”

A full video of the lecture is available on IET TV ( t=0). The IET will continue its focus on SDN in an upcoming seminar (, which will take place on 3 July 2014.

The next IET Prestige Lecture will be the Kelvin Lecture entitled: ‘Synthetic Biology – One of the eight great technologies’. It will be delivered by Professor Richard Kitney, Professor of BioMedical Systems Engineering at Imperial College, London and will be held at the Royal Institution, London on 17 June 2014.


Notes to editors:

· Interview opportunities are available with IET spokespeople from a broad range of engineering and technology disciplines including cyber -security, energy, engineering skills, innovation, manufacturing, technology, transport and women in engineering. · The IET is one of the world’s largest organisations for engineers and technicians.  We have nearly 160,000 members in 127 countries around the world. · The IET is working to engineer a better world. We inspire, inform and influence the global engineering community, supporting technology innovation to meet the needs of society. · The IET is the Professional Home for Life® for engineers and technicians, and a trusted source of Essential Engineering Intelligence® and thought leadership. · For more information, visit · Follow the IET on Twitter.

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