Tyndall researcher is making the most of networks

24 Feb 2017

Tyndall researcher Yuliya Verbishchuk. Image: Tyndall National Institute

Networking as an undergraduate has helped Tyndall-based Yuliya Verbishchuk to build up her research in software-defined networks. She spoke to Claire O’Connell.

When you send an email or watch a TV show online, you might think the information goes through the internet pretty much straight from A to B. But think again: the bits of data involved can take complex routes around networks, and this traffic is controlled manually at points along the way.

Yuliya Verbishchuk, a research intern at Tyndall National Institute, wants to automate these control points. As the volume of data goes up on networks, that stands to make data management more efficient and less expensive. 

Manual to programmable 

“When you are online and you select a movie to watch, the request that you send goes through multiple different devices, and they are all controlled locally, often manually,” explained Verbishchuk, who is carrying out the research at Tyndall in Cork.

“My project is using software-defined networking (or SDN) to simplify the management and control of those devices along the path and to make the network programmable.”

She is extending freely available, open source software that can make decisions about how information should route through networks, and that can also monitor progress and signal if a problem needs human intervention. 

“The idea is to make software that can allow the control and management of a network from a central point, and that programs the path – every single bit,” said Verbishchuk.

Scale it up

So far, she has connected devices in the lab and she is using a data modelling language called YANG (Yet Another Next Generation), which identifies how each device can be configured using a protocol called NETCONF (Network Configuration). 

The next step for the project – which is a collaboration between the Irish Photonics Integration Centre, Tyndall and Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), and financed by Science Foundation Ireland and industry partners – will be to scale it up.

“We will see how it works in the real world, and Tyndall has the fibre capability to test it out,” she said.

Taking the manual labour out of routing the information could have a big impact for operators that deal with large amounts of data, noted Verbishchuk. “If you have a data centre and you are transferring large amounts of data, then manual configuration becomes difficult,” she said.

“Being able to automatically program the network using different protocols on devices, and have central control from one point, would save money and be easier, especially as people are streaming more and more online and the traffic is increasing.”

Networking into networks

One of the remarkable aspects of Verbishchuk’s research is that she is still an undergraduate – she is currently in the final year of her primary degree.

Originally from Ukraine, she came to live in Ireland in 2008 and chose to study IT and computing at CIT. During the course, networking appealed to the young scientist, and she decided to do an undergraduate internship with her Tyndall supervisor Dr Fatima Gunning.

Research in the lab was different to the practical exercises Verbishchuk had been doing on her undergrad course. “When you are in college, you do the practical work but maybe you don’t realise how it can be applied,” she said.

“I found working on the internship and being part of a research group at Tyndall inspiring. It makes you want and learn and do more and more.”

Verbishchuk is continuing the research as she finishes her primary degree, hoping to do a master’s degree afterwards. “I actually never thought I might go on and do research until I tried it,” she said. 

Take note 

She suggests that school students and undergraduates look into their options and talk to people who have taken similar paths. “Go to open days, talk to researchers, ask for opportunities to try things out,” she said.

“Browse around and don’t be afraid to ask questions about what places or types of work are like.”

She also advises students not to dismiss subjects that can initially seem daunting, because they may provide a path to interesting areas of work. “I never really liked maths or programming when I studied them but now I use them in my research and I can see how useful they are,” said Verbishchuk.

“Also, always have a notebook with you when you are looking for new opportunities or doing research – write everything down, and this will help you remember the finer details and make decisions.”

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication