Research Focus Class on In-Network Processing

Our Research Focus Classes (RFC) are a special kind of lecture: they are more interactive and research oriented than typical lectures. Students participating in an RFC should be aware that they are not only getting in touch with real research but also have to expect doing independent work.

WS 2019/20: In-Network Processing

  • SWS: V3/Ü2, ECTS: 6
  • Lecturer: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Klaus Wehrle
  • Teaching assistants: René Glebke, Johannes Krude, Ike KunzeIna Fink​​​​​​​
    Registration and questions: Contact Ike Kunze
  • Study programs: Master Informatik (Software und Kommunikation), Master Software Systems Engineering (Communication), Master Media Informatics
  • Language: English
  • Start: October 2019, exact dates will be determined with the participants
  • Due to limited capacity, prior registration is required!

Motivation: In-Network Processing

"Ask not what you can do for the network - ask what the network can do for you." (John Doe)

Traditional belief is that networking components likes switches and routers should be dumb and only focus on their main task, i.e., the forwarding of packets, while the processing of complex protocols and payload data is considered the sole responsibility of end hosts. This principle of keeping the interconnection fabric simple has been a major factor in the rapid growth of world-wide networks such as the Internet.

Yet, performing computations on data while it traverses the network gives enormous speed and throughput improvements not only for classical distributed datacenter applications, but also for the control of heavy machinery. Decisions can be made quicker and higher amounts of data can be processed in comparison to sending all data to an end host first.

Recent advances in research have led to the introduction of programmable networking equipment and associated languages like P4 which finally make it possible to push intelligence to the data plane, i.e., the forwarding fabric of networking devices.

In this RFC, you will discover what networking devices are capable of as soon as they are no longer dumb. You will get in touch with bleeding-edge networking hardware (programmable routers and NICs) and the P4 language and engage in projects that aim at identifying and pushing the limits of what the network can do for you.

Structure of the RFC

The RFCs are research-oriented courses following an interactive schema. To do so, we give a short introductory lecture about the topic (4/5 lecture slots). This lecture phase is accompanied by small homework tasks to familiarize yourself with the topic. Afterwards in the analysis phase, you identify interesting in-network processing projects (if necessary, we will help you with this) and prepare a short presentation on the idea. Based on these findings, we will then develop new ideas for in-network processing-based applications. In the remainder of the class you then should realize your idea in the form of a mini project. Finally, you present your results to the other participants and the COMSYS group.

Overall Schedule

Lecture Phase: October-November

  • Dates to be determined (probably once per week)
  • Topics of the introductory lectures:
    • Introduction to Network Softwarization
    • Data Plane Programming
    • Limits of Programmable Network Hardware
    • Algorithmic Tricks for Programmable Network Hardware
  • Getting up to speed!
  • Learn about examples, approaches, tools, ...
  • Hands-on supplementary homework tasks to practice what you learned

Concept Phase: November-December

  • Develop your idea
  • Present your idea to the other participants

Mini Project: December-March

  • Get your hands dirty!
  • Short presentation/demo at the end
  • Interesting/fruitful projects may even result in a paper


This class will serve as an introduction on how to conduct research in communication systems. Besides learning about the actual topics, taking this course is an ideal preparation for doing a master thesis in our group. The course is only open for Master students. You should have prior knowledge at least in the basics of data communication and an interest in doing independent research. Prior knowledge in P4 or SDN is explicitly not required.

As this course is supposed to be highly interactive, seats are limited. Should we receive more registrations than seats available, we will select students based on their qualification for this course.

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