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Undergrads Contribute to Networking Research


From left to right: Stephanie Zolayvar, Rebecca Crabb, and Wai Yau

Three enterprising female undergraduate students in the UNC Department of Computer Science are doing research on networking and Internet traffic measurement funded by a Collaborative Research Experience for Undergraduates (CREU) grant for the 2011-2012 academic year. The grant, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), was awarded by the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W), a non-profit organization that focuses on providing women with collaborative undergraduate research opportunities they might not otherwise have had in the fields of computer science and engineering.

The project, titled “Analyzing the Role of Measurement and Modeling of Internet Traffic in Network Experimentation,” focuses on network characterization and modeling. Wai Yau, Stephanie Zolayvar and Rebecca Crabb, all members of the class of 2012, began their research in the fall 2011 semester by understanding the field of networking and reading published research papers before deciding on their individual projects. Yau, from Charlotte, N.C., is focusing on traffic analysis and analyzing variability in Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) round-trip time. She examines the TCP traces and obtains key information about the connection between each pair of exchanges. Zolayvar, from Burlington, N.C., is conducting a statistical analysis of TCP traces while attempting to identify characteristics of modern web tracking and how new innovations affect network traffic. Finally, Crabb, from Omaha, Neb., concentrates on adding a component to the existing system. She is modeling User Datagram Protocol (UDP) traffic generation that can be used for future research in this area.

The general goal of the research is to measure and analyze traffic and create tools to generate traffic. This type of networking research can help improve anything from using secure HTTP to web browsing to large file downloading. Although their work is self-admittedly not the most glamorous, their findings will create more credible results for future projects because researchers will be able to use a model for the simulation of a network. One of the group’s faculty advisors, Jay Aikat (Ph.D. 2010), says the team members were chosen because of their backgrounds in networking and proven performance in the classroom and research projects with other faculty. In fact, as part of their research on the topic, the team will reproduce a project on which Aikat collaborated, titled “Variability in TCP round-trip times.” This will allow them to study how network traffic has changed between 2004, 2008 and 2012.

The primary faculty advisor for the project, Kevin Jeffay, mentioned the team members were all previous students of his and chosen because they were bright, motivated and ready for an out of the box project. He said he also knew they all wanted to graduate with honors. Each of the students will be submitting her own paper for her Honors Thesis and presenting at the department’s Undergraduate Research Symposium in late April. As part of this project, each of the students will also receive funding to attend the 2012 Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference later this year.

As for their plans after graduation, Crabb has landed a job with Google in California, where she will be an associate product manager. Zolayvar is also going to Google, as a software engineer, but would like to start her own company one day. Yau is still looking for her perfect job, but eventually would like to work in software development for IBM.

In the meantime, these undergraduates are all doing graduate-level work while Jeffay and Aikat provide support as needed and emphasize the importance and relevance of their findings in the grand scheme of networking research.

(Written by Erin Kelley, UNC JOMC '13)