Three important attributes of an interconnection network are the timing strategy, control strategy, and switching strategy . The two alternatives for control are a single central controller or a distributed control system in which routing strategies are implemented in each node. Message routing based on node IDs in hypercubes and butterfly switches are examples of distributed control, since each node decides for itself how to reroute incoming messages. A centralized strategy would work well in a star network: messages from outer nodes must pass through the center, which would then decide how to forward the message. Synchronous control techniques are characterized by a global clock that broadcasts clock signals to all devices in a system so that the entire system operates in a lock-step fashion. Asynchronous techniques do not utilize a single global clock, but rather distribute the control function throughout the system, often utilizing many individual clocks for timing. Control and coordination of the various parts of the system are accomplished via some form of communication or ``hand shaking.'' Thus the interconnection network can operate synchronously off of a global clock or it may have distributed control down to the level of the individual switches. The advantage of a single global clock for control is simplicity in both the hardware and the software; the advantage of distributed control is expandability and flexibility. Synchronous and asynchronous timing strategies are a fundamental characteristic of computing systems in general. The SIMD systems discussed previously normally operate synchronously with a global clock while the MIMD systems function asynchronously with a clock in each PE.
Switching strategy is the other important characteristic of interconnection networks. The two most popular techniques are packet switching and circuit switching. In packet switching, a message is broken into small packets which are transmitted through the network in a ``store and forward'' mode. A packet traverses one link, where the receiving node will examine it and decide what to do. It may have to store the packet for a while before forwarding it toward its final destination, e.g. there may be other packets waiting to go out on that link. It is also possible that packets will traverse different sets of links on their route from source to destination. Packets may experience delays at each switching point depending on the traffic in the network. The circuit switching technique establishes a complete path between the source and the destination and then starts transferring information along the path. The circuit is kept open until the entire message has been transmitted. We will see examples of both strategies in the section on MIMD systems.