The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the Syracuse University community communicates. Ever since residential classes were canceled in March, the collaboration platform Microsoft Teams has gone from averaging 1,500 daily users to almost 4,000. Meetings, calls and chat messages practically quadrupled, with 45,000 chat messages sent in a single day. Fortunately for the Syracuse University community, College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) alumnus Karthick Jayaraman, Ph.D., is the principal software engineer on Microsoft’s Physical Network team and helps ensure those messages arrive safely.
The Seattle-based Physical Network team is responsible for the entire data center network. “We have several hundreds of thousands of switches that connect several millions of servers,” Jayaraman says. These servers together compose the Microsoft Azure public cloud. “In very simple terms, the job is to ensure that when a packet comes out of one of the virtual machines owned by our customers, it reaches its intended destination reliably all the time.”
One of Jayaraman’s former professors at ECS, Shiu-Kai Chin, says the Physical Network team has a major responsibility. “Whatever online presence Microsoft has—Azure, Bing, Microsoft 365, Teams, Xbox—that falls under their supervision,” Chin says. “The good news is that there are Syracuse University graduates on the front lines maintaining the integrity of our infrastructure at a time now when it's so critical.
The good news is that there are Syracuse University graduates on the front lines maintaining the integrity of our infrastructure at a time now when it's so critical.—Shiu-Kai Chin
Jayaraman grew up in India, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University and a master’s degree from Thiagarajar College of Engineering before coming to Syracuse in 2005 for a doctoral degree in computer engineering. Jayaraman worked with two advisers, Associate Professor Steve Chapin and Professor Wenliang (Kevin) Du, and developed a thesis that suggested several innovative security measures to deal with the most common weaknesses in web applications.
While at Syracuse, Jayaraman also worked with Professor Shiu-Kai Chin and Associate Professor Susan Older on a security project for JPMorgan Chase. “They had this fancy new protocol for ensuring the safety of high-value transactions,” Jayaraman says. “Our job was verifying that the safety of the new protocol was as good as the old protocol, if not better.” The Chase project gave him an opportunity to utilize the formal logic he was learning in the classroom. “That experience gave me a new perspective on how I can develop something so exact that it applies to real-world problems,” he says. He has applied the same angle in some of the challenges he has observed in the Microsoft Azure community.
The grooming he received from ECS faculty gave Jayaraman the confidence to apply and work at Microsoft. He has maintained relationships with his former professors, and over the years he’s reached out to them whenever he’s had a technical question—“Or for that matter any question in my professional life,” he says. “I'd always make it a point to reach out to one of my professors and seek their advice.” He said the ECS faculty has instilled both technical and practical fundamentals that have been invaluable to him throughout his career.
During a recent conversation, Chin told Jayaraman how relieved he felt to have him safeguarding critical infrastructure: “I said, ‘Karthick, knowing that people like you are in the places you are makes me feel very comforted that the right things will happen.’"