Book Review - The Internet Protocol Journal - Volume 2, No. 4

Book Reviews

An Engineering Approach to Computer Networking
An Engineering Approach to Computer Networking: ATM Networks, the Internet and the Telephone Network , Srinivasan Keshav, ISBN 0- 201-63442-2, Addison Wesley, 1997, titles/0-201-63442-2/

The rapid convergence of telephone and data networks brings with it a collision of two diverse approaches to fundamental network design. This "New World," as it is often called, requires us to understand both the analog-to-digital evolution of the voice network, with its redundant search for faultless reliability, and the persistent tolerance of the data network. Mirroring the industry trend, this book explores the three major networking technologies: ATM, the Internet, and telephone networks, with the idea that the design of any modern network requires consideration of the influence of at least two of the three technologies.

This book is a textbook. Keshav himself declares in the preface that "textbooks, almost by definition, tend to be boring," and the reader will recall this subtle warning shortly into Chapter 2. This is definitely a book for those who have at least an intermediate knowledge of data networking and a need to understand the component parts of network implementations. Keshav takes a true engineering approach, in that he attempts to teach the building blocks of the major networking technologies and this approach is what makes the book one of my all time favorites. By examining the component parts and why they are required, Keshav leaves you prepared to engineer a network that meets any number of diverse criteria.

The book is organized into three sections. Section 1 gives an introduction to the future of data and voice networks and then introduces three of the major networking technologies. This section also gives an overview of the historic construction of networks, along with some fundamental definitions of some of the engineering principles by which networks function. As early as Chapter 1, Keshav explores the engineering philosophy behind common network technologies, illustrating the theories that underlie their design. My favorite example is his suggestion that the telephone network was engineered to be intelligent because its endpoints, the telephones, are simply dumb. While this sounds obvious, it provides a fundamental perspective on the design of the system that proves invaluable to understanding the origin of the various "components" of the network.

Section 2 begins with a short but requisite review of protocol layering and, after a brief discussion of common design constraints, begins to dissect the major components required of almost any network implementation. Chapter 8 is a fairly comprehensive review of switching and, as the book's title suggests, the chapter is full of comparative anatomy. Read this chapter for its valuable insight into why various switching mechanisms have emerged and for its comparison of how various switching functions are handled on three major networking technologies. Chapter 9 deals with scheduling network resources, with an excellent comparison of the variety of scheduling mechanisms and their effect on connections and packets. It covers policy considerations that are also required of scheduling disciplines, giving the reader a set of strategies for network design. Chapter 11 covers routing of packets as well as routing in the telephone network. In my opinion, this discussion alone makes this book a required part of any networking professional's library. Admittedly, there are books that better explain routing in both of these environments, but because of the proximity of the topics, this presentation helps the reader to understand the mechanics of both systems in a way that provides insight into the inherent issues posed by both technologies.

Section 3 pulls together the various component functions discussed in Section 2 and explains some of their implementation in the form of protocols. Section 3 is a short section, probably not intended as a thorough survey of networking protocols. Keshav documents an excellent set of references for Section 3, however, and leaves it up to the reader to pursue those that are relevant to his or her professional development.

Required Reading
An Engineering Approach to Computer Networking is definitely an A+ book, and should be required reading for anyone interested in the inner workings of data and voice networks. Although the author expects the reader to absorb quite a bit in every chapter, the time spent is well invested. The book is a refreshing alternative in that it provides an answer to the question of "why" the network works rather than being another treatise on "how" the network works.

-Jim LeValley , Cisco Press

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