March 15, 2004

NC State Scientists Develop Breakthrough Internet Protocol

Researchers in North Carolina State Universityâs Department of Computer
Science have developed a new data transfer protocol for the Internet
that makes todayâs high-speed Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) connections
seem lethargic.

The protocol is named BIC-TCP, which stands for Binary Increase
Congestion Transmission Control Protocol. In a recent comparative study
run by the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), BIC consistently
topped the rankings in a set of experiments that determined its
stability, scalability and fairness in comparison with other protocols.
The study tested six other protocols developed by researchers from
schools around the world, including the California Institute of
Technology and the University College of London.

Dr. Injong Rhee, associate professor of computer science, said BIC can
achieve speeds roughly 6,000 times that of DSL and 150,000 times that of
current modems. While this might translate into music downloads in the
blink of an eye, the true value of such a super-powered protocol is a
real eye-opener.

Rhee and NC State colleagues Dr. Khaled Harfoush, assistant professor of
computer science, and Lisong Xu, postdoctoral student, presented a paper
on their findings in Hong Kong at Infocom 2004, the 23rd meeting of the
Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Communications
Society, on Thursday, March 11.

Many national and international computing labs are now involved in
large-scale scientific studies of nuclear and high-energy physics,
astronomy, geology and meteorology. Typically, Rhee said, "Data are
collected at a remote location and need to be shipped to labs where
scientists can perform analyses and create high-performance
visualizations of the data." Visualizations might include satellite
images or climate models used in weather predictions. Receiving the data
and sharing the results can lead to massive congestion of current
networks, even on the newest wide-area high-speed networks such as ESNet
(Energy Sciences Network), which was created by the U.S. Department of
Energy specifically for these types of scientific collaborations.

The problem, Rhee said, is the inherent limitations of regular TCP. "TCP
was originally designed in the 1980s when Internet speeds were much
slower and bandwidths much smaller," he said. "Now we are trying to
apply it to networks that have several orders of magnitude more
available bandwidth." Essentially, we"re using an eyedropper to fill a
water main. BIC, on the other hand, would open the floodgate.

Along with postdoctoral student Xu, Rhee has been working on developing
BIC for the past year, although Rhee said he has been researching
network congestion solutions for at least a decade. The key to BIC"s
speed is that it uses a binary search approach - a fairly common way to
search databases - that allows for rapid detection of maximum network
capacities with minimal loss of information. "What takes TCP two hours
to determine, BIC can do in less than one second," Rhee said. The
greatest challenge for the new protocol, he added, was to fill the pipe
fast without starving out other protocols. "It"s a tough balance," he said.

By allowing the rapid transfer of increasingly large packets of
information over long distances, the new protocol could boost the
efficacy of cutting-edge applications ranging from telemedicine and
real-time environmental monitoring to business operations and multi-user
gaming. At NC State, researchers could more readily visualize, monitor
and control real-time simulations and experiments conducted at remote
computing clusters. BIC might even help avoid a national disaster: The
recent blackout that affected large areas of the eastern United States
and Canada underscored the need to spread data-rich backup systems
across hundreds of thousands of miles.

With network speeds doubling roughly annually, Rhee said the
performances demonstrated by the new protocol could become commonly
available in the next few years, setting a new standard for full
utilization of the Internet.


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