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A context-aware network is a form of computer network that is a synthesis of the properties of dumb network and intelligent computer network architectures. Dumb networks feature the use of intelligent peripheral devices and a core network which does not control or monitor application creation or operation. Such a network is said to follow the end to end principle in that those applications are set up between end peripheral devices with no control being exercised by the network. Such a network assumes that all users and all applications are of equal priority. Any conflict or undesired interaction must be handled by the independent applications. As such the network is most suited to uses in which customization to individual user needs and the addition of new applications are most important. The pure Internet ideal is an example of a dumb network.
An intelligent network, in contrast to a dumb network is most suited for applications in which reliability and stability are of great importance. The network will supply, monitor and control application creation and operation. A telephone network is an example of an intelligent network -- service failure on the telephone network would be disruptive to business and hazardous to public safety.
A context-aware network is a network that tries to overcome the limitations of the dumb and intelligent network models and to create a synthesis which combines the best of both network models. It is designed to allow for customization and application creation while at the same time ensuring that application operation is compatible not just with the preferences of the individual user but with the expressed preferences of the enterprise or other collectivity which owns the network. The Semantic Web is an example of a context-aware network. Grid networks, pervasive networks, autonomic networks, application-aware networks, service-oriented networks all contain elements of the context-aware model.
In a context-aware network new applications may be composed from existing network applications. Techniques for modeling applications allow for the identification of applications that satisfy specific functional requirements as well as necessary nonfunctional requirements. This method allows applications to described in terms of their overall purposes. So for example an application may describe a business process (see BPEL). The process can be linked to its larger objectives in the organization including its priority and consequences of failure. The context-aware network can use these descriptions in its function to handle conflict between incompatible applications in the accessing of resources or in the violation of higher level constraints. The context-aware network monitors application operation to ensure that they are compatible with higher level requirements and constraints and that conflicts are resolved in their light as well.
A context-aware network is suited to applications in which both reliability and the need for system evolution and customization are required. It is finding great purchase in the development of enterprise system for business processes, customer relations management etc. Service oriented architectures, which are a specialization of the context-aware model, are the current rage in enterprise computing.
The underlying principles of a context-aware system that can handle the authoring, creation, management and operation of on-the-fly context-aware services are presented in the following book:
- ”Fast and Efficient Context-Aware Services” by Raz, D., Juhola, A., Serrat, J., Galis, A. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., London, UK, April 2006, 250 pp, – ISBN 0-470-01668-X