The Internet as we know it today will have to become like an immense ecology of composite, highly distributed, pervasive, communication-intensive services. Such services should be able to autonomously detect and organize the knowledge necessary to understand the general context – physical, technological, social, user-specific and request-specific – in which they operate.
They also should be able to self-adapt and self-configure their functioning to get the best from any situation, so as to meet the needs of diverse users in diverse situation without explicit human intervention. These features will enable a wide range of new activities that are simply not possible or impractical now. For instance, we expect future generation of communication services to be able to improve our interactions with the physical world by providing us with any needed information about our surrounding physical environment and exploiting such information to adapt/enrich their behaviour on the basis of the actual environmental characteristics.
These services will also facilitate our social interactions, by properly reflecting and exploiting the social context in which we are currently employing a service, e.g. for mere entertainment, or socialization, or in the context of business activities. Today, many opportunities for social communication and interaction are simply not realised due to a lack of information. Although acquiring and using that information raises security and privacy issues, their careful exploitation will open up a wide range of valuable possibilities for communication services.
Turning the above vision into reality is very challenging. It requires a deep re-thinking of our current way of developing and deploying distributed systems and applications, i.e., by conceiving them as to be parts of a sort of ecology and by enabling them to prosper and thrive in it at the service of users. However, it is worth outlining that striving for the vision is not only a necessity for giving better services to end-users, but it is also becoming a compulsory economic urge for service providers and system managers. In fact, the increasing dynamism and variability of communication systems, due to the increasingly unreliable nature of communication links, network nodes, and service nodes (as induced by increasing decentralisation and mobility) and to the increase in the number of means via which services can be accessed, calls for re-thinking the rigidity of traditional stack-oriented communication models, by considering that applications offering services will likely need also to exploit knowledge and the lower levels, and that will be possibly supported by dynamically reconfigurable network components that can – at their turn – “understand” the implications of dynamic system changes on applications, and adapt themselves (and/or the overall network structure and policies) accordingly.
As challenging as this can be, proving that the above vision can be effectively realized is the key goal of the CASCADAS project (Componentware for Autonomic Situation-Aware Communications And Dynamically Adaptable Services), started January 1st 2006, and funded by the European Commission. Indeed, CASCADAS attempts at defining a general-purpose paradigm for the development of autonomic and situation-aware communication services, and at showing its feasibility via development of associated tools and demonstrators.