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Exploring Computer Networks of the Future

NSF-Funded GENI Project to Redraw Today's Internet

UMass Lowell Image
GENI Project Director Chip Elliott, left, talks to Chancellor Marty Meehan and Assoc. Prof. Yan Luo during a meeting at Allen House on South Campus on April 10. Looking on is Marcie Byrd of the IT Department.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Researchers from UMass Lowell are collaborating in a virtual laboratory with more than 80 academic and corporate teams, all of which have one goal: develop the computer networks of the future.

Called GENI — Global Environment for Network Innovations — the project aims to build, integrate and operate prototypes of a groundbreaking suite of next-generation network infrastructures that will support  a wide range of experimental research in network science and engineering.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding the prototyping through BBN Technologies, a Cambridge-based advanced technology solutions firm that is the primary winner of the NSF grant. BBN is overseeing the entire project and has awarded subcontracts totaling $12 million to the various GENI team members, including UMass Lowell and UMass Amherst.

“GENI is one of the largest NSF initiatives on advanced computer network research and education,” says UMass Lowell electrical and computer engineering Assoc. Prof. Yan Luo. “The NSF has been investing tens of millions of dollars on building the next-generation network test bed for the nation.”

Luo, who is the principal investigator for the GENI project at UMass Lowell, has been working closely with the Office of Information Technology and its industrial partner, Extreme Networks, which is the primary vendor for the University’s campus network infrastructure.

“This is a perfect example of how academia, government agency and industry partners work together to promote advanced research and education,” says Luo. “The GENI project office has been promoting OpenFlow network technology, which represents the future of software-defined networking. UMass Lowell is among the few institutions — for example, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Rutgers, etc. — in the nation that are actively testing and deploying OpenFlow technology on campus.”

GENI Project Director Chip Elliott of BBN Technologies and his colleagues, along with representatives from Extreme Networks, met with Chancellor Marty Meehan and the UMass Lowell research team during a visit to the campus in April.

“The goals of this meeting were to strengthen the partnership among NSF/BBN, UMass Lowell and Extreme Networks, show the strong support from the University administration, explore further collaboration opportunities and plan the next steps,” says Luo.
In addition to Luo, attendees included Prof. Julie Chen, vice provost for research; Prof. Martin Margala, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department; and Steve Drescher, Marcie Byrd, Chris McGee and Jim Packard of the Office of Information Technology.

To see photos of the meeting, go to the UML Photo Gallery.

Cutting-Edge Technology

GENI will involve new architectures, protocols and data-dissemination techniques running over a substantial fiber-optic infrastructure, with next-generation optical switches, novel high-speed routers, city-wide experimental urban radio networks, high-end computational clusters and sensor grids. 

“All infrastructures are envisioned to be shared among a large number of individual, simultaneous experiments, with extensive instrumentation that makes it easy to collect, analyze and share real-time measurements,” says Luo.

Other universities and institutions that have received funding to work on GENI include Carnegie-Mellon, Columbia, MIT, Ohio State, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, Princeton, USC and SUNY Buffalo. Corporations that are working closely with academia include AT&T, Ciena, Cisco, CNRI, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Infinera, Microsoft Research, NEC, Netronome and Qwest.

For more information about GENI, visit