The EE Department Welcomes Associate Professor Ethan Katz-Bassett

October 31, 2017
 Professor Ethan Katz-Bassett

The Internet is a vital component to modern life and there is little that its impact does not reach. In its inception though, the Internet was not necessarily designed to support the way we use it today; from smart phones to smart homes, daily news, shopping, commerce, government, and education, it has now become the backbone to much of what we call modern civilization, while still using the protocols it was originally designed with. The role it plays now means that it has to be understood and improved as the times and demand evolve. Moreover, a challenge of the Internet is that it’s comprised of a multitude of often competing networks, such as Google, AT&T, and Sprint. What’s to be done when these networks face issues of performance, availability, and security? That is what Ethan Katz-Bassett’s research addressed over the past ten years.

The new systems built by Ethan’s team have been primarily focused on the speed, availability, and security of Internet services. They have been developed so that once deployed they directly improve Internet performance. These systems have been tremendously successful.

Ethan Katz-Bassett joined Columbia’s Electrical Engineering department in July 2017 by way of USC where he was the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Early Career Chair. While at USC, Ethan’s first four doctoral students produced high-impact research that transitioned into industry. His first student, Tobias Flach, deployed two of his projects at Google, including one which sped up Google's client connections by 23% on average. Some of those techniques are now used by default by every Linux server in the world. Matt Calder transitioned his work from academia into production at Microsoft. His service measures tens of millions of Microsoft client connections an hour. He uses the measurements to improve Microsoft's availability and performance and has improved client performance by 50% in some countries. Kyriakos Zarifis has spent years collaborating with Akamai, the largest content delivery network, on techniques to speed web performance by anticipating content that clients will need and delivering it in advance for instant availability. Brandon Schlinker brought his work into production at Facebook, where it controls which routes Facebook uses to send traffic to its 2 billion users, reducing congestion and improving performance.

The Internet’s architecture will be stressed by the emerging applications of tomorrow, just as it is being challenged by the today’s rich use cases — streaming video, interactive applications, user-generated live content, and mobility — that are a world away from the original Internet applications. At Columbia, Ethan is looking forward to overcoming the hurdles the Internet presents in order to enable that future, in collaboration with others at the university. “Columbia has many people thinking about aspects of Internet policy, in EE/CS and also in law and policy. Because the Internet spans many countries and many companies, policy is an important consideration. For example, an important consideration in some of my work is how network traffic is impacted by net neutrality legislation. I'm also excited to work with people at the Data Science Institute, since many of my systems generate large amounts of network performance data, and some of my systems are used to move around large data sets.”