Declarative and Interoperable Overlay Networks, Applications to Systems of Systems (DIONASYS)

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Computing & Communications


The DIONASYS project takes place in the context of a fast-changing computing world. Large amounts of heterogeneous resources get interconnected. This is true for example in areas such as smart cities, emergency response systems, healthcare systems, energy systems and smart grids. Building applications for such large inter-connected heterogeneous systems is a complex task. It requires taking into account end-users and applications requirements, such as service levels and end-to-end functionalities. It requires as well taking into account underlying layers and their constraints. These constraints can differ largely from one system to the other: connectivity, mobility, energy aspects and availability are prevalent examples.
In this project, we take inspiration from, and will demonstrate our results through, the specific domain of environmental and earth observation systems, which are highly heterogeneous distributed systems. Such systems are actually more accurately distributed systems of systems with underlying subsystems including a wide range of wireless sensor networks. These sensors cover different environmental parameters (e.g. related to soils, water, pollutants) at different geographical locations and measure properties at different scales. The data is then fed into cloud infrastructures that in most cases are federated and hybrid. Layered on top of this there is also a need to access data and other environmental resources on the move on mobile platforms (e.g. visualizations of outputs from prediction models).
Overlay networks offer a well-established solution to underpin low-level primitives in distributed systems. However, in complex distributed systems-of-systems, that federate heterogeneous distributed systems and support different kinds of overlays, high levels of complexity inherently occur. We propose to leverage a unique set of competencies and skills of well-recognized research teams in distributed systems, languages, networks and middleware to address the need for composable and interoperable overlay design and adaptation mechanisms and simplify the design of applications for complex, diverse and heterogeneous distributed systems.
We propose a generative approach to overlay design and implementation. We will build a domain-specific language for specifying overlays, from a global-scale abstraction perspective. Instead of specifying fine-grain interactions, overlay designers will be able to specify global characteristics of the required overlays, both from a structural and functional point of view. The descriptions will be compiled to code that will be supported by a dynamic runtime running on the heterogeneous nodes of the considered distributed system(s). The generated code will take advantage of self-organizing distributed protocols built upon the gossip-based paradigm. Such protocols allow naturally expressing global behaviours from simple local interactions between nodes. Their flexibility will also be key to addressing the need for adaptation and composability.
The domain-specific language will allow specifying adaptation and composition constraints and requirements across multiple overlays. Interoperability between multiple overlays will be supported both by the language and runtime, allowing to dynamically plug overlays horizontally-as systems of systems ranging multiple networks and providing integrated end-to-end functionalities-and vertically, by allowing stacking overlays, providing increased abstraction and richer services and functionalities when growing up the stack. We will exploit the horizontal and vertical composability and support for systems of heterogeneous systems in the context of environmental and earth observation systems.

Planned Impact

We expect the work conducted in the project to have a long-term impact on design and implementation techniques for distributed, heterogeneous and pervasive computing infrastructures such as smart cities, emergency response systems, healthcare systems, energy systems, smart grids or Internet of Things. These systems combine many geographically distributed elements, with highly varying capacity and service requirements, multiple users and dynamically evolving deployment and usage conditions. DIONASYS will (1) promote the use of overlays and overlays compositions for complex distributed systems by focusing on properties and guarantees and (2) allow application developers to focus on their needs in terms of services and guarantees rather than low-level nodes interactions.
We also expect to impact on the design of environmental surveillance and monitoring systems thanks to our use-case, which will allow demonstrating that the integration of systems-of-systems in this context can be achieved with a reasonable complexity. This is an important area and one that features heavily in Horizon 2020. We are well placed to influence developments in this area. In particular, Blair is a member of the e-Infrastructure Steering Committee of the Belmont Forum, the key forum for international agreement on technology infrastructure to support environmental observation.
More generally, we expect to influence the research community and development teams in the industry working on large-scale distributed systems to favour the adoption of self- organizing, high-level and generative approaches to distributed systems designs. We believe the current complexity of designing primitives for distributed systems may lead to major development costs, in particular when multiple systems have to be bridged together.
Dissemination will take two forms, communication to the general public and
targeted communication to industry and academia.
Communication to the general public will allow publicizing the existence of the consortium and the challenges considered by the project, without going into technical details. It will acknowledge the support from CHIST-ERA, the EU and national funding agencies. Press releases in our four languages will be released. This proved very effective in previous projects, allowing informing the general public about challenges associated to operating large amounts of networked resources but also attracting potential users and initiating industry- oriented projects.
Communication to professionals and the industry.
First, we will set up a project Web site using the Drupal content-management system. This Web site will be regularly updated with news about the project progress and will announce new prototypes and open source software. We will also set up a news feed allowing rapid interaction with other projects, e.g., using Twitter.
Second, we will seek to participate to professional forums where we can meet potential partners for exploitation, or more generally persons with responsibilities in R&D activities in companies around the topics mentioned at the beginning of this section. Etienne Rivière is involved in the Swiss section of CRIP, the major French forum for IT infrastructure managers and is giving talks in this context.
CHIST-ERA Full Proposal Form page 50 of 60DIONASYS project proposal CHIST-ERA 4th Call for Research Proposals
Third, we will seek to publish high-level articles in professional magazines aimed at IT professionals (TechWeek, CME,, etc.).
Finally, we count on the open source orientation of the project to attract more visibility, especially by announcing regularly updates and new features, and promoting the project results in open source communities around large-scale dynamic systems, sensor networks, etc.
Description This work has carried out important research addressing the complexity in contemporary distributed systems looking in particular at programming techniques and abstractions that support the programming of what are effectively highly complex systems of systems.
Exploitation Route The research is still ongoing, having recently been granted an extension. We will look for further funding opportunities to take this work forward and also to support knowledge transfer.Although the main sector impacted is the technology one, complex distributed systems underpins most areas of applications including but not limited to energy, understanding the environment, healthcare and manufacturing.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Title IotNetSim 
Description IoTNetSim is an open-source platform for modelling and simulation of end-to-end IoT services and networking. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2019 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Paper published in UCC 2019, and follow up work. 
Description GAIA Community Networks: Sustainability & Regulation Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact I gave a talk at the annual Global Access to the Internet for All (GAIA) workshop. This included a lot of representatives from NGOs, academics, industry, and practitioners from all over the world (Kenya, Ghana, Thailand, South Africa, Canada, USA, Venezuela, Egypt, Italy, Spain, France and much more). My talk sparked a lot of discussion and I formed new collaborations with industry, NGOs, and academics as a consequence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description CUSO Doctoral School (Switzerland) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Doctoral school (2 days) organised by Dionasys consortium Interoperability and automatic adaptation for novel generation middleware systems, and contributed to by members of the consortium, incl. Prof. Gordon Blair. Held in November 2015 in Neuchatel, Switzerland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Guest talk at University of Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to give a talk at University of Birmingham about our work in DIONASYS. The talk was attended mainly by PhD students, and also undergraduates. The audience found our work very interesting and a few showed interest in collaboration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017