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USI at the forefront of research in computer network technology

Prof. Robert Soulé, USI Faculty of Informatics
Prof. Robert Soulé, USI Faculty of Informatics

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The World Wide Web is the key element that led to the birth of the Information Age and is the primary tool billions of people use every day to interact on the Internet. When we use any sort of online service, like Google to search information or Instagram to share our pictures, we are retrieving and sending data through this huge network of computer servers, decentralised and scattered all around the globe, that depend on networking hardware (e.g. switches), telecommunications equipment (e.g. routers) and other services and products in order to ‘talk’ to each other. Traditionally, these devices were practically ‘fixed’, meaning that they could perform only the specific task of forwarding packets of data. Today, however, the way network hardware is designed is on the brink of a dramatic change, and our USI Faculty of Informatics is part of this revolution.

Recently, new network hardware has emerged that is programmable, meaning its behavior can be changed using software. In other words, soon we will be able to ‘program’ these devices, just like we do with computers. Robert Soulé, assistant professor at the USI Faculty of Informatics, in collaboration with a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, UC Berkeley, Cornell, and Barefoot Networks, has been exploring how to leverage this new technology to accelerate some of the basic building blocks of data center applications. In the academic paper “NetChain: Scale-Free Sub-RTT Coordination", which earned the Best Paper Award at 15th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (held this year in Renton, WA, U.S.A., at the beginning of April), Prof. Soulé and his colleagues applied the approach to coordination services, which are a fundamental component of modern cloud systems.

"We are in the middle of a radical change for the networking industry”, says Prof. Soulé. “While on sabbatical last year, I visited Barefoot Networks, which is the industry leader in developing this hardware. It gave me an opportunity to work very closely with the hardware designers to understand the details first hand. This is a very exciting time to be working in the field, as there is the possibility to re-think completely how we build systems".

Further reading on the future of networking technologies available at:  www.wired.com/2016/06/barefoot-networks-new-chips-will-transform-tech-industry/

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