Dreaming of GENI: NYU-Poly to Participate in National Effort to Improve the Internet

For researchers, GENI brings a dream to life. It lets them test theoretical approaches in a real-time environment with real users, real hardware, and real communication issues, says Professor Thanasis Korakis of Polytechnic Institute of NYU’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

His excitement focuses on the Global Environment Network Innovations Project, or “GENI,” a bold research platform first envisioned at a workshop hosted by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2005. At the time, attendees imagined a collection of networking hardware — forwarders, processor clusters, and the like — that would allow a software management system to test thousands of network experiments simultaneously. This year that vision moved closer to reality when BBN Technologies, the company managing the project, selected the NYU-Poly team to join 13 other campuses and researchers in a multi-year, $10.5 million collaboration funded by the NSF. Together they’ll replicate prototypes that will serve as a basis for experiments that test GENI’s infrastructure on a scale larger than any thus far.

Bridging the gap

The project is noteworthy because accessing hardware has never been easy for the academic community. Companies typically “have proprietary systems closed to researchers,” explains Professor Korakis. “There’s this gap between real implementation and experimentation and research.”

But by the spring of 2010, NYU-Poly will be in possession of WiMAX test beds, courtesy of NEC Corp. and NEC Laboratories America, Inc., that the NYU-Poly team will operate and integrate with the Institute’s existing WiFi test beds. And because NYU-Poly was “working on WiMAX technologies even before GENI picked that technology to try out,” says Professor Panwar, Director of NYU-Poly’s Center for Advanced Technology in Telecommunications, “we have designs and everything ready to go ahead and build something.”

Being in front of the curve puts NYU-Poly in a good position to request additional support for its efforts, should the team meet its research agenda, but the greater NYU-Poly community can expect to benefit from the project more immediately.

One giant hotspot

Instead of your Internet conking out when you move your laptop 10 steps farther from a WiFi hub, you’ll be able to take it several hundred yards and still have access. That’s because WiMAX technology offers greater coverage, and if NYU-Poly has its research license approved by the Federal Communications Commission, the governing body of the airwaves, then NYU-Poly’s use of WiMAX will cascade benefits to nearby users.

Professor Korakis is quick to applaud that outcome, but he stresses how “it’s a side effect. The main purpose of the [hardware] is for us to use it as a development tool, [something that lets us] develop our ideas in the field.”

So, even as users enjoy expanded coverage, the technology will provide greater benefit to researchers who will be able to log on and take advantage of its open-source character. They’ll be able to “improve the Internet on the fly,” says Professor Korakis, emphasizing the project’s allegiance to at least two of NYU-Poly’s highest values: invention and innovation. 

When hands-on leads to hiring

NYU-Poly’s participation in the GENI Project confers a third benefit to students: hands-on experience. The equipment provided through the project will allow students to take measurements and introduce elements of a new protocol in wireless technology. “That’s a lot more powerful than saying, ‘I read a bunch of papers and wrote a program,’” says Professor Panwar. “The fact that you dealt with real-world problems is of immense educational value.”

He believes that experience will elevate NYU-Poly students’ standing in the job market after they graduate, since they’ll be part of a small pool of students across the country that has access to networking hardware. As Professor Korakis reminds them, “GENI struggled a lot to convince industry to develop open source, WiMAX bay stations that would be provided to the research community.” Students would do well to take advantage of the multiple wishes GENI may grant their job-hunting future.