Campus: CSU Northridge -- April 17, 2002

CSUN's Newest Lab Offers Endless Possibilities In Testing How Computers Relate to Each Other

In a quiet laboratory on the first floor of Cal State Northridge's Engineering Building, teams of students are each building a computer network security system and then systematically trying to crack into another team's network, looking for its weaknesses.

This is just one of an endless list of uses university computer scientists envision for the new Interoperability Lab in the Department of Computer Science. The lab, which opened this semester, is set up to study how computers and computer networks relate to each other.

"There is incredible potential for the lab," said Steven Stepanek, chair of the computer science department. "Trying to hack into a computer network system is one very small use. There are many, many more things we can do. What we can do with the lab is basically limited only by our imagination and the kind of support equipment we get from the technology and business communities."

The lab is the result of more than $300,000 in equipment donated by Enterasys Networks and its industry partner e-Systems Design. In addition to the equipment for eight separate computer stations, officials at both companies also donated their time in designing and installing a lab that could test different sorts of network topographies and protocols and check the interoperability of different networking equipment from different vendors.

"The network security class is just the first to use the lab," Stepanek said. "In the future we will have classes that will explore all the lab's capabilities."

Stepanek said several people already have expressed an interest in exploring the quality of service provided by a computer network and what that quality of service means when different types of information are put on the network.

"This idea of quality of service is very important when people start thinking about putting something like video conferencing or other things using video on to the Internet. You don't want strange pauses or signal loss to occur," Stepanek said. "This is still a relatively new area of Internet research and this is an ideal lab for doing some of that testing."

Computer science faculty and students already are planning to use the lab to test how well a computer network would receive video depending on how much that network is being used.
"We want to see what happens when a network is running at 50 percent capacity and then crank it up to 70 or 80 percent and see how well the videos work then," Stepanek said. "There's so much we can do with the lab."

He said faculty are working with other network- and hardware-based companies which are interested in using the lab to test their equipment. Those research projects would be integrated into the department's academic curriculum.

"The skills our students are learning in the lab and will be learning are the skills businesses are looking for," Stepanek said.

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