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Q&A: Sun's Radia Perlman speaks out on being stuck with IP, new life for spanning tree and her answer to data security: the ephemerizer

Distinguished engineer weighs in on the state of network research and her latest projects.

By , Network World
May 05, 2006 12:19 PM ET

Page 4 of 4

So TRILL is kind of like a new spanning tree?

You can think of it as a replacement to spanning tree that has the same properties of being zero-configuration, just plug it together and it works and it looks like one big thing but performs better because you have optimal paths. With spanning tree it's like taking the highway system and saying you don’t need both Rtes. 128 and 495 [to use local roads here in Massachusetts] just because they both sort of go in the same direction.

Jeez, I wasn't even going to ask you about spanning tree. I figured it was old news.

Something else you would think is old news is my thesis from 1988 on how to design a network that had the property that even if some of the routers were really malicious and were trying to do bad things (lying about who they were connected to, flooding the network with garbage, etc.) how could you cope with that. My thesis sounded really hard and important when I proposed it but the solution turned out to be embarrassingly simple. I found out years later that University of Washington networking people were required to read it. The thing was, though, that my proof of concept required a small enough network that all of the routers in it could keep track of all the source destination pairs talking at the same time. Recently I was discussing my thesis with someone else and we realized it does not extend to larger networks where you need hierarchy. We had to rethink it and do it in a totally different way which also has implications for congestion control. That's another paper that I've been working on recently.

Speaking of schools, I understand you aren't thrilled about how networking is being taught these days.

I get frustrated. Universities tend to teach it like it's a trade school. As if the only thing that ever existed is TCP/IP. The attitude seems to be that everything about it is perfect, so you just need to get your students to learn how to use it and write applications to it. But there are a lot of problems with this field where people just repeat things and nobody questions them anymore. Including in text books that are used at reputable universities. There's a lot in there that's just wrong. Like that ISO failed because it had too many layers. Or, if everything were encoded in XML it would all be interoperable or that security problems will go away once you have IPv6. What I'd like to see more of, and what I tried to do in [my book] Interconnections is to get people to think about things conceptually. One problem is that the books out there today only tend to deal with one or two layers and if they do all of networking they tend to only be strong in the areas of the writer's expertise. I've thought of collaborating with others on a book that would look at all of networking.

For the latest on network-oriented research at university and other labs, go to Network World’s Alpha Doggs blog.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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