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December 10, 2009

Reflections on CoNEXT 2009

Last week I attended the CoNEXT Conference in Rome. I had heard a lot about this conference, which is now in its fifth year, but had never previously attended. As SIGCOMM chair, I was recently added to the steering committee for CoNEXT, so it seemed like the right time to correct this omission in my conference-going history. Also, as I noted in my recent editorial, we're keen to grow the set of quality venues for publication of papers of interest to the SIGCOMM community, and CoNEXT is well on its way to becoming such a venue. In fact, based on the quality of this year's program, I would argue that it is already of comparable quality to the SIGCOMM flagship conference. Of course, it's hard to measure quality objectively, but I heard enough favorable comments about the papers to convince me that this perception was widely shared. CoNEXT also accepts papers on a wide range of networking topics, with new architectural approaches, wireless networking, peer-to-peer, security and management all receiving good coverage this year.

Producing a high quality technical program depends on many things, not least the quality of papers that are submitted, but one factor is the quality and diligence of the program committee. With experienced chairs Ernst Biersack and S. Keshav, this year's PC seems to have done extremely well. Favorable comments about review quality were made even by some authors of rejected papers.

I hesitate to begin listing highlights of the conference, for fear of offending someone by failing to mention that their paper or contribution, but here goes. I don't think anyone will be offended by my saying that Van Jacobson's talk on content-centric networking was eagerly anticipated and got the technical program off to a flying start. Many of us in the SIGCOMM community have had the chance to hear Van talk about CCN in an informal setting, but this was the first appearance of the project at a formal conference, and I think many were inspired to go and read the full paper.

Prior to Van's talk, Ratul Mahajan, recipient of this year's Rising Star award, gave the keynote. His talk contained a number of thought-provoking insights on how to pick and pursue a productive research agenda, drawing on Ratul's personal experiences. It was striking to hear someone who is in the early stages of his career sound like an elder statesman in the field.

I participated only briefly in the student workshop (I came directly from the airport to the closing panel so I could share my sleep-deprived insights on research careers - a very interesting and interactive session). This workshop has been a fixture of CoNEXT from the beginning, and is an effective way of bringing students into the main conference and giving them a chance to present their work at an early stage. We hope to use travel grant money to increase participation in this workshop next year.

The local arrangements and logistics were excellent. The meeting facilities at the National Research Council were very good, with the auditorium providing great acoustics and visibility. One aspect stood out in particular: the conference banquet. It was a beautiful venue (the Teatro Capranica) and the food was outstanding, but the most impressive thing was that the organizers had only 10 days to line up the venue, when the original venue's booking was pre-empted by the City. The ability to respond and produce such a high quality event under duress was a testament to the skill and dedication of the conference committee.

All in all, I think we have another top quality, broad conference in the SIGCOMM stable. Of course, the quality ultimately depends on the papers, so I hope that our community will increasingly think of CoNEXT as a desirable venue to publish. CoNEXT 2010 will be in Philadelphia, November 30 - December 3. Mark your calendars and start thinking about the papers or posters you might be able to submit.