In the early 1960s, Paul Baran invented packet switching. Packet switching became the foundation ARPANET, which later gave way to the Internet. Baran died at the age of 84 last Saturday. But packet switching lives on after all these years as the primary foundation of computer networking.

But just as chips, databases and programming languages have entered a period of increased specialization, we may be seeing the beginnings of specialized network topologies. Last week several Internet giants, including Facebook, Google and Yahoo formed the Open Network Foundation, a group dedicated to promoting Software-Defined Networking (SDN). The group's first priority is a protocol called OpenFlow. The key idea is to give network engineers more control over switches by giving them customizable firmware, supplanting the one size fits all paradigm of modern networking equipment.

Just as NoSQL databases like BigTable, Cassandra and HBase have enabled these companies to create new database architectures, the OpenFlow could enable them to build highly customized network topologies that combine the packet switching and circuit switching paradigms.

"We believe that OpenFlow is a pragmatic compromise: on one hand, it allows researchers to run experiments on heterogeneous switches in a uniform way at line-rate and with high port-density," reads the abstract of the OpenFlow white paper. "While on the other hand, vendors do not need to expose the internal workings of their switches."

Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, and Yahoo sit on the board of the Open Network Foundation. Several other major technology companies are members as well, including equipment vendors like Netgear.

See also: 5 Ways Networking is Being Reinvented.

Photo by lco.