USC ISI Researchers Honored for Contributions to Networking Simulator

August 14, 2020
Lila Jones

The research contributions of John Heidemann, a USC Viterbi research professor of computer science and a principal scientist at the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI), and Yuri Pradkin, a systems programmer at ISI, were recently recognized in the 2020 Networking Systems Award from SIGCOMM.

The award - from the  Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Data Communications, or SIGCOMM - serves to recognize the development of a networking system that has had a significant impact on the world of computer networking, and this year, it was given to a series of networking simulators referred to as "ns."

"It was a very happy surprise for me to hear about this award," said Heidemann, who led ns development from 2000 to 2004. "I'm honored that we at USC were able to play a part."

The ns family of simulators - which include ns-1, ns-2, and ns-3 - allow researchers to test out ideas in a simulated computer network before laboratory or testbed experiments. Heidemann and Pradkin were credited as major contributors, along with a number of USC Ph.D. students, to the development of ns-2, which built off of the earlier ns-1.

"The ns family received the award because it has a long history, over 20 years, of significant influence on the Internet research community," Heidemann said. "Probably more than 100 Ph.D. theses used some version of ns to carry out their research."

NS-2 was a great facilitator of research and education in computer networking because different ideas for computer networking protocols could be quickly tested. "It is much easier to debug protocols in a simulated world than in real-life systems," Pradkin said.

USC ISI was one of four institutions that contributed to ns-2 development, the others being the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UC Berkeley and Xerox PARC.

Networking simulators evaluate the hardware and software to develop networks, which are collections of computers, servers, routers, and other devices that are all connected to one another and can share and exchange data. The most well-known computer network is the Internet, but the Internet is also made up of various other networks, like the backbones of Google and AT&T.

Pradkin added that simulating networks is important because computer networks are ubiquitous in the modern world. "People carry smartphones and expect to be connected to their friends at all times. Industrial systems, payroll accounts, online shops, payment systems, air-traffic controllers all have computers connected to each other and talking to each other."

Over the past 50 years, the Internet has seen huge changes as features like e-mail, file sharing, the web, and audio and video streaming appeared. "The ns family of simulators helped this process by reproducing the most relevant parts of the Internet inside software in a way that it can be controlled and experimented with (simulation), while allowing exploration of design choices to understand what happens, and what should happen," Heidemann said.

Heidemann and Pradkin hope that their findings can continue to help in the research and education of computer networking.

"The importance of the network has become very clear since COVID-19, at a time when much of the world today is working on-line," Heidemann said. "From USC to Google to dozens of other companies &ndash online work is only possible because of the Internet that supports the web and Zoom and all the other virtual "properties" we use."