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Don Towsley and Ramesh Sitaraman aim to influence the Internet content ecosystem evolution

CS Professors Donald Towsley and Ramesh Sitaraman, with ECE Professor Christopher Hollot and CS alum Zhi-Li Zhang (Ph.D. '97; now Prof. at Univ. of Minnesota-Twin Cities), are collaborating on a National Science Foundation-funded Internet content ecosystems interdisciplinary project, studying the increasingly complex ways in which content is delivered to users on the Internet and to invent new architectural and algorithmic mechanisms to coordinate these better.

According to the researchers, this project is "focused on gaining insights to help guide the evolution of future Internet services, resulting in better quality-of-experience (QoE) for the users, and greater system efficiencies for the entities in the ecosystem."

"The Internet used to be a simple place, but no longer," Sitaraman said. "Even the seemingly simple act of a user watching an online video triggers a complex series of interactions between the content provider providing the video, the ISP providing Internet connectivity to the user, and one or more CDNs tasked with delivering the content. These interactions are often loosely coordinated and can sometimes go unexpectedly awry, leading to an inferior online experience."

The key to the future success of the Internet rests squarely on understanding these complex interactions and in inventing new architectural and algorithmic mechanisms to coordinate them better, the researchers said. But this is no easy task because the Internet consists of thousands of organizations that often act independently with minimal coordination.

"It's a little like having many cooks trying to cook the same dish," said Sitaraman. "Consider how the quality level at which a video should be streamed to a user is decided. The video player picks a quality level based on its estimation of the bandwidth that the network can provide, while the network is using its own protocols to independently divide its bandwidth resources across multiple users. The lack of coordination in the decision-making can result in anomalies such as users seeing low quality videos even when the network bandwidth is plentiful."

Towsley added, "Solving the puzzle requires a truly interdisciplinary approach. We will apply a rich set of techniques from control theory, network algorithmics and mathematical modeling to develop new and better ways of managing complex interactions between these organizations."

View the full article on this research project.