There has been talk of the future of Mesh Computing for a while and I have just fluffed it off a bit as something interesting but not really something that should be looked at deeper. As reading a short article over at cloudtimes.org and with the talk of “Tactical Cloud Computing” being planned by the US Army I got thinking about that wonderful promise about how Mesh Computing will change the world and decided to take a deeper look.
So what is a Mesh Network? Wikipedia provides a very interesting definition of many of the arts of this type of Network Topography:
Mesh networking (topology) is a type of networking where each node must not only capture and disseminate its own data, but also serve as a relay for other nodes, that is, it must collaborate to propagate the data in the network.
A mesh network can be designed using a flooding technique or a routing technique. When using a routing technique, the message propagates along a path, by hopping from node to node until the destination is reached. To ensure all its paths’ availability, a routing network must allow for continuous connections and reconfiguration around broken or blocked paths, using self-healingalgorithms. A mesh network whose nodes are all connected to each other is a fully connected network. Mesh networks can be seen as one type of ad hoc network. Mobile ad hoc networks(MANET) and mesh networks are therefore closely related, but MANET also have to deal with the problems introduced by the mobility of the nodes.
The self-healing capability enables a routing based network to operate when one node breaks down or a connection goes bad. As a result, the network is typically quite reliable, as there is often more than one path between a source and a destination in the network. Although mostly used in wireless scenarios, this concept is also applicable to wired networks and software interaction.
So after that rather long definition I really start to see how the concept of a Mesh Network could potentially become a real concern for IT Professionals in an increasingly technically astute workplace. Imagine this scenario if you will…a group of disengaged employees are really not happy, the company is unionized and a strike is looming. The group collectively gets together and because of the very liberal BYOD policy that was deployed as a method of increasing morale provides limited access to the main network but through the power of Mesh Networking…a single company computer is added into the Mesh allowing unrestricted access to the full network.
This does not necessarily have to be a bad thing either though. There are benefits for the self healing Network as nodes come and go. I tend to look to worst case but as a tactical advantage…moving from Desktops to Laptops for Disaster Recovery can allow for there to be an advantage gained by creating several Point to Point connections to allow a specific collaboration team to work together…file transfer does not slow down the primary network (thinking of engineering firms with large image files flying back and forth) or for a temporary facility where the complexities of a full wired LAN is just not economically feasible, the creation of a Mesh Network connecting together in the time of need is a great thing.
This is likely an improbable situation but not impossible. I know that in a recent test, I was able to boot up Linux on my work Laptop while on the company network because of MAC Address Authentication for the network I was still able to access the internet…if I had ill intent…there is likely very little that would have prevented me from taking a tour through areas that I should not have been able to access but I had no ill intent…I was showing colleagues the look and feel of the latest version of Ubuntu.
Mesh Networks are an interesting step into the future, through a combination of Telecom investment, Public participation and a real drive to a true AORTA (Always On Real Time Access) life style that relies on the availability of WiFi, supplamented by 3G/4G networking…an entire city could be potentially crowd sourced into a giant mesh network. The use of the OLPC project in third world countries is a prime example of how a Mesh Network can extend a single Internet Connection throughout a village and provide Information to everyone!
Chris J Powell