Have you heard of CCN? CCN is an open-source implementation of "content-centric networking" or more commonly "named data networking." It's a technology being actively developed by the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), formerly Xerox PARC, the birthplace of computing mainstays like the PC, Ethernet, laser printing and the graphical user interface.

So what's CCN? It's an alternative idea about how computer networking should work - and it could very well one day be the future of Internet communications, most importantly, mobile networks.

?If testing out experimental, next-generation network architecture is the kind of thing that gets you excited about technology, then you have to get an Android phone. PARC has just announced that Android is now a supported platform for CCN testers.

Why CCN is Needed

To find out more about CCN's development, progress and potential, we spoke to PARC's Jim Thornton, project manager for CCN, and Business Development lead, John Tripier. Below is a summary of what we learned.

IP, or the Internet Protocol, is the backbone of today's Internet. When it was invented, it was created with the idea of computers talking to each other, sort of like a telephone system for computer networks. But that was many, many years ago, in a much different world. Although the invention of IP has led to major innovations in terms of communications, it no longer represents the best technology for how we use the Internet these days.

If you ask people what they think about the Internet, or how they use it, they'll tell you about watching YouTube videos, socializing on Facebook, checking email, etc. A lot of what people do involves viewing and accessing content. IP allows you to make a request for that content by typing in a URL (Update: as a commenter points out, I should clarify - the URLs are further up the stack, built on TCP/IP). The URL then resolves to an actual address on the Internet, that being the location of a physical server in a data center somewhere, connected to the Web. Of course, that's a simple explanation - large sites have more than one server and more than a single IP address. But the concept is the same - the data travels from one endpoint to the other.

CCN, on the other hand, is an attempt to take what works about IP and modernize it for how we use the Internet now. Like the URL system built on top of IP, it too wants to introduce a simple way of asking for content. But instead of URLs, CCN uses names. The difference is that with CCN, the content being requested doesn't have to come from only the originating server - it can be housed on other nodes on the Internet. CCN will deliver the content from the node closest to you. This could be a router maintained by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), for example, which would be much closer - physically - than a server in a data farm thousands of miles away.

Not only is the distance between content requester and content storage closer, it would also lessen the congestion on the network as a whole. Instead of everybody hitting up a single site for a popular item - say, a YouTube video of an adorable kitten, for example - they would just pull from the nearest copy.

CCN on Mobile

Although CCN has multiple use cases - consumers, enterprise or mobile carriers could take advantage of CCN on their networks, it's the mobile carrier application that's of interest to us. Carriers have the greatest need for a solution like this, as we move into the new computing landscape where connected devices, smartphones, tablets and portable computers are the norm, and exist in greater number than the PC ever did.

The mobile carriers themselves are struggling to adapt, building out new network infrastructure, but not fast enough, it seems, to keep up with demand. Some have proposed measures to prioritize certain content streams over others, but this goes agains against one of the core principles Internet proponents hold dear: network neutrality. Google and Verizon, for example, reportedly teamed up to push lawmakers into allowing content creators to pay for prioritized content delivery. They later denied this was the case, but many are still skeptical, especially given the number of loopholes in their proposed plan.

The good news is that with respect to network neutrality, CCN is neutral. Carriers could avoid the traffic congestion that occurs around popular pieces of content, by allowing networks to move that content just once across the line, then serve it up to end users far downstream from the original source.

When Is This Coming?

CCN could one day roll out alongside or on top of IP - it wouldn't have to be a case of either/or. For use on the Internet, all that's needed is its integration into the routers and networking equipment that move data packets across the net. That's no small thing, however. CCN is likely years and years away from real-world use. But clients testing PARC's software solution, the open source technology hosted at CCNX.org, are just 18 months to 2 years from using it commercially.

We YouTube video viewers will have to wait a bit longer, unless Google were to get involved, for example. There are very few companies of Google's size that could actually implement a technology like this on a large scale...which is why it's interesting to see that PARC's CCN software is now available for testing on Android devices. That wasn't done at Google's behest, mind you, it's just that Android is based on Linux, and Linux is the OS of the Internet.

Dealing with traffic congestion isn't CCN's only advantage. It can also take advantage of any radio on a device to transfer bits, it has a robust security model in place involving cryptographic technology, it's flexible, and, from an end user standpoint, it would be simple to use. Instead of having to practically become a network administrator to set up your home's network, for instance, configuration would be much easier to manage and security would be built-in.

Researchers interested in exploring the possibilities of CCN on mobile can download the new code for use on Android devices,  and then, as PARC says, "work on the bleeding edge of technology experimentation and adoption."