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10 cool network and computing research projects

Bob Brown | Jan. 22, 2015
Much of well-funded research is aimed at security, simplifying use of current technology and figuring out how to more easily plow through mounds of big data. Here's at peek at 10 projects.

Server Fastpass

A group of MIT researchers say they've invented a technology that should all but eliminate queue length in data center networking. The technology dubbed Fastpass uses a centralized arbiter to analyze network traffic holistically and make routing decisions based on that analysis, in contrast to the more decentralized protocols common today. Experimentation done in Facebook data centers shows that a Fastpass arbiter with just eight cores can be used to manage a network transmitting 2.2 terabits of data per second, according to the researchers.

Professor Hari Balakrishnan, a co-author of the paper, admitted that this isn't an intuitive solution to the problem of network lag. "It's not obvious that this is a good idea," he said in a statement.

The trick, the researchers said, is a new way of dividing up the processing power needed to calculate transmission timings among multiple cores. In essence, Fastpass organizes workloads by time slot, rather than by source and destination pair. A core gets its own time slot, and schedules requests to the first free servers it can find, passing everything else on to the next core, which follows suit.

(Via Jon Gold, Network World Senior Writer.)

Sniffing out Censorship

Georgia Tech researchers are seeking the assistance of website operators to help better understand which sites are being censored and then figure out how to get around such restricted access by examining the data collected.

The open source Encore [Enabling Lightweight Measurements of Censorship with Cross-Origin Requests] tool involves website operators installing a single line of code onto their sites, and that in turn will allow the researchers to determine whether visitors to these sites are blocked from visiting other sites around the world known to be censored. The researchers are hoping to enlist a mix of small and big websites, and currently it is running on about 10 of them.

The code works in the background after a page is loaded and Georgia Tech's team claims the tool won't slow performance for end users or websites, nor does it track browsing behavior.

"Web censorship is a growing problem affecting users in an increasing number of countries," said Sam Burnett, the Georgia Tech Ph.D. candidate who leads the project, in a statement. "Collecting accurate data about what sites and services are censored will help educate users about its effects and shape future Internet policy discussions surrounding Internet regulation and control."

Keeping an Eye on Excel

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have released a tool called CheckCell that's designed to spot errors in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that could lead to big problems. And as researchers will tell you, most spreadsheets do tend to have errors in them. The researchers say spreadsheet errors can have serious consequences, whether it's messing up a student's grades or leading to erroneous research data becoming accepted as fact.


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