October 17, 2011

Professor Wins Grant to Study Data Center Malfunctions

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Prof. Hakim Weatherspoon, computer science, received a $1.35 million grant to analyze how to improve the reliablility of the Internet’s data centers, the University announced Oct. 3. Weatherspoon received the grant, awarded by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to understand how and why data centers — which act as information storage centers on the web — malfunction. Central to solving how glitches in the data centers occur, Weatherspoon said, are the private information superhighways that link web users to these data storage centers.To expedite the movement of information from the data center to the user, the information superhighways must be improved, Weatherspoon said.“All of this data exists in a cloud, and all of this is stored in data centers, and all of this is accessible to the network, so you really want this to work efficiently as we move forward in this direction,” he said. For example, people who check their email may access data centers owned by Google through the company’s information superhighways, he said. Weatherspoon said that, although users may not be aware of them, data centers are ubiquitous on the Internet, comprising one part of what he termed the “hidden Internet.”“The Internet has evolved such that there are two tiers: There is a hidden Internet and then there is a public Internet,” Weatherspoon said. “The hidden Internet [consists] of companies and firms that own large data centers, with millions of machines in each center, and anytime you go to their website, you are being directed to one of their data centers.”In his research, Weatherspoon seeks to answer questions about how users can efficiently switch vendors, use data centers for storage and use data centers securely and reliably.Weatherspoon said that the source of problems with the data centers lies in the transfer of information through the superhighways. In many cases, the user’s PC will not have the capacity to process data at the level it is transmitted through these highways, potentially resulting in a loss of information, he said.Weatherspoon said he believes that the NSF was interested in his research because it is investigating the efficiency of cloud computing.“The cloud can reduce the cost of storage and computation for the physical infrastructure” involved in setting up servers and networks, he said, adding that the NSF was considering moving the Library of Congress to cloud computing, despite concerns with the program’s efficiency.Weatherspoon added that he thinks DARPA is interested in his work to enable more efficient use of hardware in the military.Weatherspoon worked on this project with a group of students, including Tudor Marian Ph.D. ’10, who is now working for Google, and Lakshmi Ganesh grad. Weatherspoon also collaborates with Dan Freedman, a postdoctoral student, and institutions such as MIT, Berkeley and Stanford.Ganesh emphasized the importance of understanding how data centers work.“The use of data centers has become so ubiquitous that they are involved in most of the functionality we take for granted today: web browsing, email, word processing, social networking, media streaming, data storage and computation,” she said.Weatherspoon stressed the necessity of data centers in today’s world.“We live in a connected world. If you are not connected to the network, it’s like you don’t even exist,” he said.

Original Author: Utsav Rai