Professor Ramesh Sitaraman – Massachusetts Daily Collegian

It can be said that the Internet today is an essential and indispensable component of our daily life. We use it at work and during our spare time – and for many reasons. Therefore, maintaining a fast, reliable and scalable internet is a critical task.

This is exactly what Professor Ramesh Seetharaman of the Robert and Donna Manning School of Information and Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts is doing. For more than two decades, he has made important and practical contributions to the performance of the Internet. Seetharaman is director of the Internet-based Distributed Systems Lab at UMass, founding director of the Informatics Program at CICS and a major player in the development of the Content Delivery Network (CDN).

Seetharaman joined UMass’s faculty in 1993, having completed his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Princeton University. Later, Seetharaman left academia for a time to join a team of colleagues in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and to help build Akamai, the world’s first major CDN.

“The importance of the internet was growing at the same time that we were building the science to make it more reliable and perform higher,” Seetharaman said.

The basic idea behind a CDN is to distribute Internet content to multiple servers that are geographically remote to allow faster content delivery. These servers are located near where the content users are located.

To draw an analogy, imagine shopping from an online store. In order for purchases to arrive more quickly, this store can take advantage of having a warehouse closer and containing the purchased items.

Likewise, a store can have multiple warehouses spread across the country (or the world), ensuring that its products are available at an appropriate distance from its customer base. On top of that, the store also needs to be strategic when it comes to delivering their products, possibly avoiding traffic and rerouting to faster routes.

This whole process is broadly what CDNs do behind the scenes. According to Sitaraman, the concept of a CDN is like regulating the flow of traffic on a huge road system. The purpose is to deliver content faster and more reliable. CDNs offer a lot of Internet content, including videos, applications, and online services. Their role is an integral part of the functioning of the Internet.

One particular use of CDNs appears when streaming video content over the Internet. The challenge is to ensure uninterrupted high-quality video streams. Sitaraman and his team at LiDS Lab have developed algorithms to help with this, which are now being rolled out to several streaming services — Amazon Prime Video for example, Sitaraman said.

When a video doesn’t load properly, this is an afterthought for content providers. In one of the first studies of its kind, Seetharaman established empirical evidence for a causal relationship between streaming video quality and viewer behavior.

“We’ve noticed that people don’t wait more than two seconds before they drop the video,” Seetharaman said. What is interesting is that the patience of viewers depends on their expectations for speed. “If you expect high speed, you are less impatient,” Seetharaman said.

According to the study, users abandon a broadband connection (typically the fastest internet) sooner, while mobile internet users are more patient. Moreover, the study found that if a video fails to play, the user is less likely to return to the content provider’s site within a specified period of time.

“These things seem possible, but we were able to show it scientifically,” Seetharaman said.

Seetharaman also recognizes that sustainability is a critical challenge for the Internet, and is focusing on ways to make the Internet more sustainable. “The internet consumes more energy than medium-sized countries in terms of the amount of energy it consumes,” Seetharaman said.

A prolific researcher, Sitharaman is a staunch proponent of “curiosity-driven” research. “As scholars, we should be much more motivated by curiosity than action by practice,” Seetharaman said. “A lot of things we do in research [are] On the basis of intellectual interest. It’s hard to predict which of these things will be the next big thing.”

Seetharaman added that when he chose to major in computer science, it was almost entirely out of pure interest and admiration. “It was the combination of admiration for mathematics and science and the elegance of algorithms,” Seetharaman said, which led him to computer science.

Aside from research, Sitaraman is fond of teaching, and says it is one of the main reasons for his return to academia. He teaches algorithms at the undergraduate and graduate levels. One of the main tasks of Sitaraman is to teach people to think in an arithmetic way. “When the light bulb goes out and people understand how to think arithmetic, that’s really the time when I feel the most satisfied.”

Seetharaman also founded and directs the Informatics Program at UMass CICS. An interdisciplinary degree, the Informatics program enables students to cross the bridge between computer science and other fields.

Outside of academia, Sitaraman enjoys travel, the outdoors, and Indian classical music. Although most of his reading time is aimed at keeping up with the scientific literature, Sitharaman loves the classic Sanskrit epic “Mahabharata” and has read it several times.

Sitharaman Advice for Undergraduate Students:

Seetharaman believes that it is important for students to aim for a broad education during their college career. “Students should have a broad education rather than a narrow one,” Seetharaman said. He added that students can always narrow their focus in graduate school.

Additionally, Sitaraman encourages students to make use of their college time to sample different types of things and see what they like best. “I think being a college student is the best time to sample,” Seetharaman said. “Try many things, go outside your comfort zone, and try something you may or may not like. Surprisingly, you may like it.”

Mustafa Al Mutawa can be reached at [email protected]And follow her on Twitter @safiookarim.

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