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Chesson Receives Alumni Award for Distinguished Service

On April 11, CS @ ILLINOIS alumnus Gregory Chesson (MS CS ’75, PhD ’77) received an Alumni Award for Distinguished Service from the College of Engineering. Chesson was recognized for “outstanding contributions to early UNIX operating systems and to the design and development of high-performance and wireless computer networks.”

Gregory Chesson
Gregory Chesson

“My first reaction on learning of this award was something like ‘how did they find me, and why?’” said Chesson. “It is certainly nice to be recognized, but I never expected or sought formal recognition for any of my work other than simple peer acknowledgement.”

Listed as a co-inventor on 12 US patents, Greg Chesson has sometimes been called the godfather of networking due to his many contributions to the area. Chesson spent much of his career as chief scientist with Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), the maker of powerful computer workstations and servers whose realistic 3D graphics technology was popular among movie, game console, and early Web companies during the 1980s and early 1990s.

As a student at Illinois, Chesson helped bring the UNIX operating system to campus by convincing Professor Donald Gillies to purchase a license. He did early work on ARAPAnet's (precursor of the Internet) Network Control Program protocols (the predecessor of TCP/IP, today's networking stack).

After graduation, Chesson joined Bell Labs, where he contributed to the sixth and seventh releases of UNIX, pursuing all aspects of computer-to-computer communication. Chesson’s work on multiplexing included the mpx facility in the seventh edition of Unix and a simple thread mechanism that was used in the first BLIT terminals. He also developed several CAD tools and a prototype CPU that was specialized for networking.

In 1982, Chesson joined SGI as one of its first technical staff members. He invented the Xpress Transfer Protocol (XTP), which is a flexible transport protocol designed for high-speed networks. XTP was simple enough to implement in VLSI hardware, allowing packets to be processed in real-time with very low latency. XTP was adopted as a military standard (SAFENET) for real-time networks used by the US Navy and Air Force, and it has also been used in broadcast studios and for satellite communications.

Chesson has been a senior staff engineer at Google, Inc., since 2005 where he works on measurement and analysis of large-scale congestion and packet burst phenomena. In between SGI and Google, he worked at wireless LAN startup Atheros Communications Inc., where he contributed to system and chip architecture, wireless chip designs, and QoS and security protocol design and development.

“As I review the work I've done over the years, it becomes clear that in order to fully contribute to various projects, I've had to work on hardware, software, VLSI, architecture, complexity and numerical analysis and more,” Chesson said. “I could not have had the same career experiences without the ability to walk comfortably in all of those subdisciplines. Therefore it is accurate to say that my personal story reflects well on the pedogogical bias at Illinois.”

In addition to his technical achievements, Chesson is an accomplished musician—primarily drums and piano. In the 1960s, he joined the U.S. Air Force and performed with one of its bands; several years later returned to civilian life and toured the country with several different jazz and R&B groups, including Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders, and the Woody Herman jazz orchestra.