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For his vision and work toward helping create a more energy-efficient Internet, University of Arizona computer scientist Beichuan Zhang has earned a major international award.
The foundation for Zhang's work came out of a project that involved his students, Mingui Zhang and Cheng Yi, and also Bin Liu of Tsinghua University located in Beijing, China.
The group co-authored "GreenTE: Power-Aware Traffic Engineering," a 2010 paper detailing a scheme to improve energy efficiency of the Internet infrastructure. In the paper, the team noted that energy usage could be reduced by dynamically turning on or off network links based on the level of traffic load.
"For me personally, this is a complement saying that my work is really relevant. It not just for purely intellectual benefit," said Zhang, an assistant professor in the UA's computer science department.
"It has the potential to have a real world impact, and that's very encouraging," Zhang said.
The prize is designated for researchers whose work is considered timely and of great importance that also results in products and services that have direct implications for improving the Internet.
"This recognition is pretty unique," said Saumya Debray, the interim department head for the UA computer science department.
The Internet Society is the umbrella organization for IRTF and the Internet Engineering Task Force, or IETF, its research arm. "The two groups that basically keep the Internet running," Debray said, noting that IETF drives efforts to standardize the Internet's function, whereas IRTF focuses on its evolution.
"These are large international bodies with representation from all sorts of constituencies – governments, industry, researchers," Debray said. "So the fact that Dr. Zhang's research has attained the visibility to this large organization to merit this award is something that's notable in itself."
The only other recipient is Mattia Rossi, a research and development engineer for the Centre for Advanced Internet Architectures at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.
"I am extremely pleased that the very first Applied Networking Research Prizes have been awarded to such deserving individuals," Lars Eggert, chair of the IRTF – IETF's research arm – said in a prepared statement.
Zhang is involved in a range of grant-funded projects and research initiatives, such as the Named Data Networking, a 10-university member team.
The team, led by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, is working to produce "the next generation – the new Internet."
Also, Zhang has been working closely with Chris Gniady, also an assistant professor in the computer science department, and other collaborators to advance the initial work that was described in the 2010 paper.
Together, he and Gniady are working under a National Science Foundation grant to create new devices and protocols to reduce costs and the Internet's carbon output while maintaining performance.
For the project, "Green Net: Energy Management for Network Infrastructure," the two have solidified the theoretical side but are not working on developing a test bed by the year's end so that they can test the theory.
Debray reaffirmed the significance of Zhang's contributions, especially with the expectation that his ideas and techniques could result in energy savings of 27 percent, or more.
"Those are pretty big reductions in energy usage that I think could translate into millions of dollars in savings to anyone who has to deal with a lot of Internet usage," Debray said. "More generally, of course, there is the obvious societal benefit that comes from doing things using less energy."
And this is why Zhang feels compelled to continue his research.
"I feel my work on this energy-efficient network system is very relevant," said Zhang, who has since presented his work to two groups within the international organizations, both from the academic side of the house and those from industry.
"Both talks were very well-received, and that is very helpful for me to push forward in this work," he said. "I get a reality check form industry operators and vendors and they get new ideas."