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Network optimization is a special type of linear programming model. Network models have three main advantages over linear programming:

  1. They can be solved very quickly. Problems whose linear program would have 1000 rows and 30,000 columns can be solved in a matter of seconds. This allows network models to be used in many applications (such as real-time decision making) for which linear programming would be inappropriate.
  2. They have naturally integer solutions. By recognizing that a problem can be formulated as a network program, it is possible to solve special types of integer programs without resorting to the ineffective and time consuming integer programming algorithms.
  3. They are intuitive. Network models provide a language for talking about problems that is much more intuitive than the ``variables, objective, and constraints'' language of linear and integer programming.

Of course these advantages come with a drawback: network models cannot formulate the wide range of models that linear and integer programs can. However, they occur often enough that they form an important tool for real decision making.

Michael A. Trick
Sun Jun 14 13:20:08 EDT 1998