17 March 2004
New Internet Protocol Promises Speed Breakthrough
by Kate Melville
Researchers in North Carolina State University's Department of Computer Science have developed a new data transfer protocol for the Internet that makes today's high-speed Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) connections seem positively pedestrian.
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, 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.
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.
Rhee and NC State colleagues Dr. Khaled Harfoush, assistant professor of computer science, and Lisong Xu, postdoctoral student, presented a paper on their findings at Infocom 2004.
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 the 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 common way to search databases - that allows for very 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 available in the next few years, setting a new standard for full utilization of the Internet.