UMass team wins Juniper/Comcast Hackathon first prize

On November 13 through 17, three graduate students from the UMass Amherst School of Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering Department won the $5,000 first prize in the Juniper/Comcast Northeast Division Hackathon. The winning team was composed of Rufina Chettiar, Computer Science, advisor Distinguished Professor Jim Kurose; Abhishek Dwaraki, Electrical and Computer Engineering, advisor Professor Tilman Wolf; and Divyashri Bhat, Electrical and Computer Engineering, advisor Professor Michael Zink.

The Software Defined Networking Hackathon organized by Comcast and Juniper, which took place at Juniper's Westford campus in November, saw six teams from various schools across the Northeastern U.S. compete for a coveted $5,000 reward and interviews for internships with Comcast and Juniper.

The first two days of the Hackathon involved getting familiar with the Junos Space SDK, a tool that Juniper's engineers work hard to build and maintain. The UMass team learned a battery of useful information and skills during the workshop stage, including: Software Defined Networking and network programmability concepts; how network automation and programmability initiatives are transforming time to market at scale; introduction to Juniper Network's Software Defined Networking platforms and programming technology/tools; introduction to large-scale service provider content distribution networking.

After two days, this workshop was followed by five days of hard work to complete the assigned project and then present a business model. All competitors were required to work off-campus between the 12th and 18th of November, after which each team was asked to present a prototype of its solution in front of an esteemed panel of judges.

 The problem that teams were asked to solve: "Many of the present day Internet Service Providers have grown in size and scale through multiple acquisitions of smaller providers, mainly to expand their reach into larger territories. Acquisitions don't always mean that top-of-the-line equipment and service providers end up having to deal with a lot of legacy devices in their networks. With a lot of emphasis currently on Software Defined Networking, having to work around legacy devices in a network presents its own set of problems. The crux of the problem statement was to build an efficient content transport and monitoring system for a constrained legacy network provided by Juniper's OpenLab."

"We played to our strengths," said Chettiar about working out a solution. "We divided the work amongst ourselves, and each of us concentrated on one part of the project. Discussions, asking questions, sharing insights, and using different approaches to solve the problem were the strongest points about our team. Also, we worked together so each of us knew what the other was doing and added our inputs to make the business model more fancy."

The UMass team's solution for providing dynamic control and monitoring of the legacy network was to build a network controller that constantly monitored the state of the network over multiple parameters. It subsequently helped the application choose how it wanted to make use of the network to perform efficient content delivery.

"Since our team consisted of two members from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and one from the School of Computer Science Department," said Dwaraki, "that gave us a complete perspective of system design as we worked together and learned from each other."

 As good as the UMass team proved to be, it faced some tough competition.

 "We saw some amazing presentations," said Bhat, "including one team, which finished second, that created an overlay of the given network on Google maps. Another team, which came in third, showcased a complete solution for dynamic adaptive video streaming. Two other teams built user-friendly GUIs for network administrators."

 When facing the panel of judges, each team was given 15 minutes to present its solution, including a live demonstration, followed by five minutes of Q&A with the judges.

"It was an honor representing the University of Massachusetts Amherst and winning the 'Hackathon torch,'" Chettiar concluded.

(UMass Engineering Press Release)