MIT researchers teach TCP new tricks with software named Remy

Remy automatically generates congestion-control algorithms for dramatically improved speeds and lower latency.

A sophisticated piece of software called Remy can be used to manage network communications with unprecedented precision, creating new protocols and controls on the fly in order to wring maximum efficiency out of a network.

Remy is the brainchild of MIT professor Hari Balakrishnan and graduate student Keith Winstein, who are scheduled to present a paper entitled “TCP ex Machina: Computer-Generated Congestion Control” at an Association for Computing Machinery conference this summer.

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According to MIT's news office, Remy works by testing a wide array of possible configurations to arrive at the best possible results. The user can specify characteristics of the network in question, provide a profile of common user activity, and define the goals and metrics that Remy should shoot for.

Thanks to sophisticated heuristics and design, Remy can create algorithms with more than 150 different rules, allowing for more nuanced and efficient network performance.

“Traditionally, TCP has relatively simple endpoint rules but complex behavior when you actually use it. With Remy, the opposite is true. We think that’s better, because computers are good at dealing with complexity. It’s the behavior you want to be simple,” Winstein said. “It doesn't resemble anything in the 30-year history of TCP.”

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and Remy has dined out in style on the competition so far. Balakrishnan and Winstein's tests show that the system can achieve throughput roughly double that of the major standard TCP protocols in a simulated high-speed wired network, with improvements of between 20% and 50% in a simulated Verizon LTE downlink. (Latency was sharply reduced in both instances, as well.)

There's still plenty of work to be done, of course – the researchers say in the paper that Remy's efficiency can only be proved through extensive testing, and they're still unclear on precisely why it seems to work as well as it does – but with networks increasingly creaking under the strain of today's vast demands, an automated management system like Remy bears watching.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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