A Networking Idea That's Out of This World

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An End to Chatty, Earthbound Networks?

Here on Earth, enterprises are spending hundreds of millions on WAN optimization technologies designed to get over the limitations of TCP/IP. The general argument is that TCP/IP can be excessively chatty, and using up more bandwidth in the process, for example. Burleigh said DTN and TCP/IP are optimized for different parameters.

"It is true that DTN is designed to be much less 'chatty' than TCP/IP Burleigh explained. "The origin of the term 'bundle' -- which you can think of as the DTN equivalent for 'packet' -- lies in the notion that some metadata may accompany the data, so that the receiver doesn't have to ask the sender for additional information in order to know what to do with each bundle when it arrives."

That said, DTN does have its own bandwidth costs. DTN may reduce end-to-end data delivery latency by sending a little extra data, but that extra data costs bandwidth.

While NASA is testing DTN millions of miles above the Earth, you can test it out here, too, via an open source implementation of DTN available from SourceForge. It's not the same implementation that NASA tested on its spacecraft. The exact implementation that NASA used is available for download from https://ion.ocp.ohiou.edu.

The DTN effort is cross-platform and operating system independent. Burleigh said the DTN implementation that NASA has tested on its spacecraft is written in C. It is designed to run in multiple operating environments without any adaptation or modification including VxWorks, Solaris, OS/X, several different distributions of Linux, and others.

"The intent is to be able to use the same software both in flight and on the ground so that any enhancement or bug fix we add only has to be implemented once, meaning we don't have to deal with differences in the way DTN works on different platforms," Burleigh stated. "We hope this approach will limit costs and make the system continuously more robust and capable over time as its installed base grows."

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