Ben Zhao, 30
Perfecting peer-to-peer networks
University of California, Santa Barbara
Ben Zhao wants to improve the Internet by letting new networks piggyback on top of it.
Zhao creates structured overlay networks. These peer-to-peer networks are like the ones file-sharing services use, routing data directly between individual users over the Internet. But instead of allowing any computer in the network to talk to any other, structured overlays have strict rules about which machines may talk to which. This allows them to route data more efficiently and to detect and sidestep failures more quickly. "Everything is about resiliency and recovery and robustness," Zhao says.
As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, Zhao wrote Tapestry, a series of networking protocols that was one of the first structured overlay networks. Some of his Berkeley colleagues built an application called OceanStore that uses Tapestry to provide cheap, reliable, global-scale data storage. Since then, Zhao and others have developed a host of programs that take advantage of Tapestry.
Now an assistant professor at UC Santa Barbara, Zhao is working to make structured overlay networks more secure. With companies such as Microsoft interested in the technology, his success could mean practical networks that manage and heal themselves.