6.888: Advanced Topics in Networking, Spring 2016

Instructor: Mohammad Alizadeh

Lectures: Tue/Thr 2:30-4:00pm in room 5-232.

Office Hours: Tuesday 5-6pm at 32-G920.


6.888 is a graduate-level seminar on the latest research in computer networks. This semester we will focus on two of the leading topics of interest in the networking research community: datacenter networking and software defined networking (SDN). Students will explore these areas through reading and discussing recent papers and a semester-long research project.

The goals of the course are:

  • To gain a deep understanding of the principles and techniques underpinning the design of modern datacenter networks and SDNs.

  • To practice reading and critiquing research papers.

  • To conduct an original research project culminating in a draft research paper and presentation.

What is the course about?

Datacenter networking: Large-scale datacenters nowadays host the majority of the world's data and computing, and serve as the critical infrastructure for cloud computing and global-scale services such as web search and social networking. The datacenter network is the interconnect that ties all compute, memory, and storage elements in the datacenter together. The requierments and design decisions for constructing datacenter networks differ greatly from those of the wide-area Internet, and present new challenges and opportunities for data networking. In this course, we will explore in-depth the challenges for datacenter networking – how these networks are designed, why they are designed this way, and how they can be made better in the future.

Software defined networking: Today's networks are built from vertically integrated, embedded systems using old-fashioned engineering practices, making them unnecessarily complicated and error-prone. SDN is an emerging paradigm in computer networks that is poised to change all this by providing open interfaces to network devices and allowing a logically centralized software program to control the behavior of the entire network. We will explore SDN from diverse perspectives including SDN control platforms, programmable switching chips, formal verification, algorithms, and SDN use cases.


  • Sign up on the Piazza forum for this class.

  • The first lecture will be on Tuesday, February 2.

About the Course


This class is open to PhD and Masters students as well as advanced undergraduate students. General background in computer networking at the level of 6.829 is preferred. If you are not sure whether you meet the prerequisites, email Mohammad.

Grading Policy

The class is graded as follows:

  • Reading and Participation: 30%

    • Paper reviews before class: 15%

    • Class participation: 15%

  • Paper Presentation: 10%

  • Project: 60%

Readings and Reviews

Each class will have one or two assigned readings which we will all read prior to class. All students are expected to have thoroughly read the papers, and come to class ready to discuss them in detail. This is essential to get the most out of the class!

Before each class, students must submit a short review (one to two paragraphs) of the required readings. Submit your review at the Review Submission page. Reviews will be accepted by 12am (midnight) the night before class. Each student may skip any 2 reviews during the semester without affecting their grade.

Paper Presentations

Each student will also be assigned one paper to present to the class during the semester. The presentation should roughly be 25 minutes. Keep the following questions in mind to help you structure your presentation:

  • What problem is the paper solving and why is it important?

  • What is the main idea of the paper?

  • How does the paper differ from previous work?

  • Are there any flaws in the paper? How would you improve the paper or build on it in future work?

Research Project

The research project is a core component of the course. Students will propose and conduct the project individually or in groups of 2. It is OK (and often a good idea) to work on a class project that complements your ongoing research provided it is relevant to the course. Talk to Mohammad if you're not sure whether this would work.

The project milestones and rough timeline are as follows:

  • Proposal (1-2 pages): March 1

  • Midterm Review: April 1

  • Final Presentation: May 10

  • Final Report: May 18


We will be using Piazza for class discussion. Rather than emailing questions to me, I encourage you to post your questions on Piazza.

Please sign up on the class page here.