MIT Researchers Take on Slow Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is great, when it works. When it doesn't, you're often stuck buying a new router, or even worse, dragging out the old, unsightly Ethernet cord from the basement.
People who administer commercial Wi-Fi networks have the same problem, only their routers are much more expensive and the wired alternative just as impractical. But thanks to new research from MIT, they might soon be able to more easily solve their Wi-Fi woes.
MIT engineers have come up with a way to change a router's traffic management algorithms, which prioritize different types of data traveling over a network, without replacing the entire device. Their findings could make wireless routers reliable and cost-effective enough to be deployed in data centers, potentially revolutionizing the way servers talk to each other.
It's already possible to change a router's traffic management -- it can even be done on your home router with a simple firmware update. But programmable traffic can't stand up to the immense data transfer needs of a server farm.
"Previously, programmability was achievable, but nobody would use it in production, because it was a factor of 10 or even 100 slower," MIT professor Hari Balakrishnan explained. So his team came up with a new type of scheduler, the part of a circuit that arranges data packets in the router's queue and extracts them for forwarding.
Such a scheduler could serve as the foundation for a next-generation network switch that would allow data center managers to change how their network functions each time advances in scheduling technology are made, without having to replace the expensive routers themselves.
Switching to wireless routers from the wired type traditionally used in server farms could also simplify their layouts by removing the need to run miles of cable around a building. That could result in further cost savings.
One hopes those savings would be passed on to you, the Netflix, Dropbox or other cloud service customer, instead of being used to pad the company's profits.