Saturday, September 3, 2011

Isenberg School and the College of Engineering Will Partner on a New Collaborative NSF Grant: Network Innovation Through Choice

Our project on Collaborative Research: Network Innovation Through Choice" has been funded by the National Science Foundation in the amount of $2.732 million ($909, 794 to UMass Amherst) for three years starting on September 15, 2011. This is a collaborative project among the University of Massachusetts (Tilman Wolf and Anna Nagurney), the University of Kentucky (Jim Griffioen and Ken Calvert), RENCI (Ilya Baldine), and NC State (Rudra Dutta, George Rouskas).

Dr. Tilman Wolf is a Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering and I am at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass (but also hold courtesy appointments in two engineering departments).

Yesterday, our multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research project group had our first video teleconference, and we began to outline both short-term and long-term goals. I am very excited to be working with such a great group of researchers.

Computer networks, in particular the Internet, represent essential infrastructure for business, government, military, and personal communication. Several recent trends in technology and network use have pushed the capabilities required of the Internet beyond what can be provided by the currently deployed infrastructure. To address these limitations, the network community has developed a variety of technologies to adapt the functionality of network protocols and services. A critical question that remains unanswered is how to integrate these technologies into an ecosystem that involves users, service providers, and developers in such a way that new ideas can be deployed and used in practice.

Market forces have had a drastic effect on the shape of services and applications at the edge of the network. Our research proposes a transformative shift in the design of networks that enables sustained innovation in the core of the network using economic principles. We believe that supporting choice is the key aspect of a network architecture that can adapt to emerging solutions for current and future challenges. Choice implies that users can select from alternatives that can be deployed dynamically into the network and reward those that address their needs. We use this interdependency between technological alternatives and economic incentives to create a competitive marketplace for innovative solutions that address current and future challenges in networking. Our proposed work describes fundamental research aimed at the design, development, and prototyping of aspects of a next-generation network architecture where such choices and competition drive innovation at all layers of the protocol stack.

The proposed network design is based on three tightly coupled principles. Our ChoiceNet system aims to (1) encourage alternatives to allow users to choose among a range of services, (2) let users vote with their wallet to reward superior and innovative services, (3) provides the mechanisms to stay informed on available alternatives and their performances. We propose a number of fundamental research problems that address the design of building blocks to provide alternatives in the network, the economic framework for incentives, the necessary monitoring and management components, and the prototyping, education, and outreach efforts. Overall, our work does not aim at reinventing technical solutions to networking problems, but at developing a comprehensive system where these solutions can be deployed and compete to allow the network to adapt to current and future challenges.

Intellectual Merit: Our project addresses one of the key problems in the current Internet – how to design a network that ensures long-term innovation inside the network core. The proposed research will provide solutions to fundamental questions on how to enable choice among different service alternatives, how to develop marketplace for incentive-based competition, and how to handle explicit control and management. The development of a prototype allows for realistic experimentation that includes community involvement and educational uses.

Broader Impact: Our project will contribute to enhancing the functionality and usability of the nextgeneration Internet, which will become an important piece of infrastructure. Our project also integrates research and education of graduate and undergraduate students at the participating organizations, where we will continue with our current involvement to integrate underrepresented minorities. Results from our work will be disseminated in the form of an open-source prototype and publications.

For a recent blogpost on what getting a research grant means even in the case of a business school professor, read here.