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Student Research: Fast, Efficient Data Transfer

January 30, 2009

In a world where we expect data on demand, Hiral Shah is studying how multiple servers can work together effectively to meet this need. Hiral, a second-year graduate student in the MS in Information Networking program (MSIN), is using the facilities at Carnegie Mellon's Parallel Data Lab to study the problem of "Incast," which is an obstacle to speedy data transfer over standard TCP/IP over Ethernet protocol.

Fast, efficient data transfer has come to take place over multiple servers. The servers in the storage system work as a team to parse and save the data until it is needed, at which point, they deliver the pieces of data in an accurate and orderly fashion as requested by the client. Like a digital assembly line, this process aims to make data delivery more efficient. Incast occurs, however, when the number of servers used to store the data increases beyond a certain threshold. Short bursts of data overload the system causing it to mysteriously slow down and lose data. This breakdown in the data transfer is also known as TCP throughput collapse.

While previous research has come up with ways to delay the occurrence of Incast, a solution does not exist. Hiral is researching a workable solution by changing the amount of time a server waits before trying to retransmit data after a failed first try. Before graduating in May, she hopes to submit her thesis for publication to a networking and systems conference.

Hiral is working under the guidance of Professors Garth Gibson, Greg Ganger and David Andersen and three Ph.D. students at Carnegie Mellon. She took the course Computer Networks, taught by Professor Andersen and Professor Steenkiste, and she chose to study the topic of Incast after talking with Professor Gibson about the various research projects taking place on campus related to her interest in networking.

"I have taken full advantage of every opportunity provided by the MSIN program," said Hiral proudly. Her hard work in graduate school has led her to receive and accept a job offer from Apple. After graduation, Hiral will be a telephony engineer and will work on solutions for another important data transfer tool, the iPhone.

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