ABIE Award Winners

Radia Perlman

2005 Winner of the ABIE Award for Innovation

For her ground breaking innovations, creativity, collaboration, and commitment to education, Radia Perlman is awarded the inaugural Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award for Innovation. Radia is the senior distinguished engineer of Sun Microsystems.

Radia’s contributions to routing protocols and particularly her spanning tree algorithm used by all bridges and switches make the internet scalable and robust. In security, she has made contributions to sabotage-proof routing, PKI models, and certificate revocation.

“Many claim to be the Father of the Internet, but there is only one ‘Mother,’ and that is Radia Perlman,” said Greg Papadopoulos, CTO of Sun Microsystems.

Radia’ s ability to see and articulate brilliantly elegant solutions and innovations has been her hallmark. In the 1970’s, she designed and built a system for teaching programming concepts by creating a program consisting of commands that are physical objects that plug together.This system included hardware and software and taught basic concepts such as subroutines, conditionals and recursion.The media lab at MIT recently rediscovered this work and considers Radia “the inventor of tangible computing.”

Radia’ s 1988 Ph.D. thesis at MIT, titled “Routing with Byzantine Robustness,” was a work ahead of its time. It guaranteed that communication was possible provided at least one non-faulty path existed between a source and a destination, even if all other routers were flooding the network with garbage, lying about routing information, corrupting packets from one source, etc. Many others have tried to solve this problem but nothing else has had such a simple and broad-range solution.

Radia continued to use her skills to become a prolific inventor with over 70 patents granted to date and another 50 in progress. Her wide- ranging contributions to routing have made it more robust, more efficient, and more scalable. During the 1990’s, Radia was determined to be the #1 most highly connected inventor as defined as having the highest number of patents referenced by other patents. In addition, and indicative of her collaborative nature, she was also identified as having the highest number of distinct co-inventors. Many of her inventions have been donated to the standards community.

More recently, Radia has produced additional inventions in the area of security. She has been working on PKI models, distributed authorization and ephemeral decryption for making e-mail or other files reliably disappear. In addition, she is working on blind decryption to make ephemeral decryption more secure and more efficient. She is applying this work to various kinds of file systems.

Alongside her abilities as an innovator and collaborator Radia has also been an educator using it to expand innovation outwards. She has published numerous papers and was named as one of the 20 most influential people in information technology by Data Communications Magazine in its 20th and 25th anniversary editions. Radia has taught at Harvard, her alma mater MIT (where she received her BS, MA, and Ph.D.), and the Swedish Royal
Institute of Technology (KTH). At KTH Radia was awarded an honorary Ph.D. by the computer science department, something done only once every five years.

She is the author of two widely used textbooks (“Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols” and co- author along with Charlie Kaufman of “Network Security: Private Communication in a Public World”), both of which promote conceptual understanding and critical thinking and not just deployment and implementation. Not only have her books paid obvious dividends to students but while trying to explain an Internet security protocol called IPsec, she and her co-author discovered new ways to simplify it.

With her expansive knowledge, technical analysis skills, inventive creativity and analytic capability complemented by an extreme accessibility to all, she is a highly sought after teacher and speaker at universities and companies. Radia is an amazing communicator asking probing questions, explaining complex material to people of all experience levels, and brainstorming in groups. She is a masterful mentor and serves as an inspiration to those she works with across Sun Microsystems and throughout the industry.