The Geomorphic View of Networking

In the geomorphic view of networking, the architectural module is a layer. Each layer is a microcosm of networking---it has all of the basic ingredients of networking in some form. In a network architecture there are many layer instances; they appear at different levels, with different scopes, with different versions of the basic mechanisms, and for different purposes.

The geomorphic view of networking may seem familiar and obvious because both the classic Internet architecture and the OSI reference model also describe network architecture as a hierarchy of layers, but in fact there are several radical differences, which the name "geomorphic" has been chosen to emphasize.

In the Internet and OSI architectures, each layer has a specialized function that is viewed as different from the function of the other layers. In both architectures there is a fixed number of layers, and the upper layers are global. In the geomorphic view the arrangement of layers is more varied and complex, as it actually is in the earth's crust:

The overlapping and abutting shapes below are common to both geological diagrams and networking.

The geomorphic view was first presented in "The geomorphic view of networking: A network model and its uses" (Pamela Zave and Jennifer Rexford; 7th Middleware for Next Generation Internet Computing Workshop, Montreal, Canada, ACM Digital Library, 2012). Here is the workshop talk. The geomorphic view has proven to be extremely useful in studying the design space of network mobility.

We have looked at many other aspects of networking through the lens of the geomorphic view, including multihoming, anycast, broadcast, failure recovery, middleboxes, and autonomous-domain boundaries. Although none of these aspects have been studied in the same detail as mobility yet, the initial results are promising.