Overlay Network

An overlay network is a computer network which is built on the top of another network. The nodes in the overlay can be thought of as being connected by virtual or logical links, everyone is corresponds to a path, it perhaps through many physical links, underlying network. As example, the distributed systems such as peer-to-peer networks, cloud computing and client-server applications are overlay networks because their nodes run on top of the Internet. Internet was originally built as an overlay upon the telephone network while today (through the advent of VoIP), telephone network is increasingly turning into an overlay network built on top of the Internet.

Uses of overlay networks

In telecommunication

Figure 1: A sample overlay network

 Overlay networks are used in telecommunication because of the availability of digital circuit switching equipment and optical fiber. The Telecommunication transport networks and IP networks (that combined make up the broader Internet) are all overlaid with at least an optical layer, transport layer and an IP or circuit layers (in the case of the PSTN).

The Enterprise private networks were first overlaid on telecommunication networks such as frame relay and Asynchronous Transfer Mode packet switching infrastructures but migration from these (now legacy) infrastructures to IP based MPLS networks and virtual private networks started (2001~2002).

From a physical standpoint overlay networks are quite complex (see Figure 1) as they combine various logical layers that are operated and built by various entities (universities, businesses, government etc.) but they allow separation of concerns that over time permitted the buildup of a broad set of services that could not have been proposed by a single telecommunication operator (ranging from broadband Internet access, the voice over IP or IPTV, competitive telecom operators etc.)

List of overlay network protocols

The Overlay network protocols which are based on TCP/IP include:

  • Distributed hash tables (DHTs), like as KAD and other protocols based on the Kademlia algorithm, for example.
  • JXTA
  • XMPP: routing of messages based on an endpoint Jabber ID (Example: nodeId_or_userId@domainId\resourceId) instead of by an IP Address
  • Many peer-to-peer protocols including the Gnutella, Gnutella2, I2P, Freenet and Tor. (Examples: Limewire, μTorrent, Shareaza, Tribler.)
  • PUCC
  • Solipsis: the France Télécom system for massively shared virtual world
  • HyParView: the highly robust unstructured overlay for gossip broadcast

Overlay network protocols which are based on UDP/IP include:

  • Real Time Media Flow Protocol - Adobe Flash

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