Russ Clark's Window on Software Defined Networking

From where he sits in his Tech Square lab, Dr. Russ Clark, Associate Director of GT-RNOC (Georgia Tech - Research Network Operations Center), has a good view of the university bookstore, hotel, and the tree-filled square. But sometimes, when he glances through a window, he can see westward clear across the 85 freeway, all the way to where the AWARE Home stands on 10th Street, and take a look at what's happening inside. How is this possible?

Magic, of course.

Or, more specifically, Clark's mixed reality telepresence portal, the 'Magic Window.' The app allows a user to look through a screen at another location and view the events happening there. The view adjusts to user movements, and can be controlled using hand signals.

“For that piece of it, we're using a Kinect,” Clark explains. “We want to give you the illusion that you are looking through a window.”

Two days before this interview, in mid-November, he had just completed a successful demonstration of the Magic Window at the Georgia Tech People and Technology Forum, and was eager to discuss the next steps for the project. Though impressive, Magic Window is not an end in itself – but rather, a means for demonstrating some rather impressive underlying technology.

“What we're doing,” Clark notes, “is to provide a demo app for the work we're doing in software-defined networking.”

Software-defined networking, he explains, is intended to provide ways to open up the control of a network to application developers. While traditional IP networks are built with control and data integrated so there's no easy way to separate the two, SDN is meant to remedy this. “We want to be able to slice the network resources and give [developers] a slice that they can control.”

To this end, he and other researchers around the country are collaborating on a nationwide NSF project dubbed GENI (Global Environment for Network Innovation). GENI is a large scale testbed for software-defined networking, and the Magic Window installation is one of Clark's contributions to the field.

“Our first installation is basically two endpoints,” says Clark, referring to his lab and the AWARE Home. “The next step is to add additional endpoints.”

In fact, he has one particular endpoint in mind – Salt Lake City. The next GENI conference will be held there in March 2013, and Clark hopes to be able to demo Magic Window at the conference. He ticks off a list of qualities he expects to demonstrate: support for multiple users and sources, the ability to choose video quality, adjust bandwidth to allow for other traffic, and the ability to transform video on the fly.

“We set out to use the installation to create a more meaningful demonstration of software-defined networking,” notes Clark. “Our goal is to hook [it] up and basically do demos live from the aware Home and IPaT (Institute for People and Technology).” If all goes well, sometime in March a large community of GENI researchers will be able to look in on the AWARE Home from across the country, and take in the same view Russ Clark can now see from his lab.