The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Wolf Publishes “Most Comprehensive Book” on Network Systems

Dr. Tilman Wolf of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department is the co-author of a new textbook, Architecture of Network Systems published by Morgan Kaufmann, which has been called “the most comprehensive book on network systems” published to date. As Wolf explains, “Basically, you would read our book in order to understand how to design the devices that make the Internet work.” Architecture of Network Systems shifts the emphasis of most books and courses on computer networks away from their protocols and the software they use to the hardware systems that are necessary to achieve high-performance, secure, and power-efficient data communication.

“Any network system in the Internet needs to play nicely with standard networking protocols,” Wolf quips. “Otherwise it doesn’t work.” While protocols are standardized, there are many different ways of how to implement the routers, switches, and network interfaces that process network traffic. The book focuses on architecture, design alternatives, and performance aspects of these systems. “The book basically looks at network systems architecture from the hardware design angle, rather than from the protocol design angle.”

Network systems require technical skills in computer architecture, embedded systems, algorithm design, and computer networking. Architecture of Network Systems – geared toward senior undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals in the field – explains the practice and methodologies that will allow readers to solve a broad range of problems in system design, including problems related to performance, security, quality of service, power consumption, and more.

Wolf’s co-author is Dimitrios Serpanos, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Patras in Greece. His expertise is in computer architecture, and he recruited Wolf for the writing project because of his background in networking and embedded systems.

Networking systems are tiered by different levels of what are called “protocol layers.” There is usually a characteristic hardware component associated with each layer. Architecture of Network Systems systematically goes through the protocol layers and describes the functionality of their hardware systems. Then it looks at the design and performance challenges that are encountered when building such equipment with enough performance, speed, and security.

“Overall the book covers all aspects of networking hardware,” notes Wolf. “It’s a complete package. Our book will ideally teach you the basics of how to design a network system to perform well. This ability to think about the actual hardware of a network system is an important skill when trying to correct performance problems in existing systems or developing new designs.”

It is the first book to provide across-the-board coverage of technical aspects in network systems, including system architecture, protocol processing systems, high-performance data structures for common networking tasks, low-power design, and security techniques.

“This is the most comprehensive book on network systems, covering design and evaluation techniques from the link layer to application layer,” wrote Laxmi Narayan Bhuyan, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of California, Riverside. “It beautifully blends networking with architecture and operating systems with just the right amount of detail. The book will serve as an outstanding text and reference for graduate students and researchers in the emerging area of architecture of networking systems.”

One indication of the widespread need for this book is the way in which Wolf has been forced to create lesson plans for his own class on network systems. “I’ve basically been pulling material from several other books trying to give my students a comprehensive background,” he recalls. “Our book tries to combine all that information together under one cover.”

In a way, the book mimics protocols for network systems by governing how Wolf’s writing and teaching “play nicely” with each other. “Having taught my Computer Networks course for five years now, that’s really helped me in thinking about the material and how to structure it in such a way that it makes sense to somebody who is new to the subject,” says Wolf. “I expect student will benefit from how the book allows me and other instructors to present this material more clearly in our courses.” (February 2011)