Section: Research Program

Research rationale

As society relies more and more on computers, responsiveness, correctness and security are increasingly critical. At the same time, systems are growing larger, more parallel, and more unpredictable. Our research agenda is to design Computer Systems that remain correct and efficient despite this increased complexity and in spite of conflicting requirements. The term “Computer Systems” is interpreted broadly,(This follows the definition from the journal of reference in our field, ACM Transactions on Computer Systems .) and includes system architecture, operating systems, distributed systems, multiprocessor systems, and touches on related areas such as computer networks, distributed databases or support for big data. The interests of the Regal group cover the whole spectrum from theory to experimentation, with a strong focus on algorithm design and implementation.

This holistic approach allows us to address related problems at different levels. It also permits us to efficiently share knowledge and expertise, and is a source of originality.

Computer Systems is a rapidly evolving domain, with strong interactions with industry. Two main evolutions in the Computer Systems area have strongly influenced our research activities:

Modern computer systems are increasingly parallel and distributed.

Ensuring the persistence, availability and consistency of data in a distributed setting is a major requirement: the system must remain correct despite slow networks, disconnection, crashes, failures, churn, and attacks. Ease of use, performance and efficiency are equally important for systems to be accepted. These requirements are somewhat conflicting, and there are many algorithmic and engineering trade-offs, which often depend on specific workloads or usage scenarios.

Years of research in distributed systems are now coming to fruition, and are being used by millions of users of web systems, peer-to-peer systems, gaming and social applications, or cloud computing. These new usages bring new challenges of extreme scalability and adaptation to dynamically-changing conditions, where knowledge of system state can only be partial and incomplete. The challenges of distributed computing listed above are subject to new trade-offs.

Innovative environments that motivate our research include cloud computing, geo-replication, edge clouds, peer-to-peer (P2P) systems, dynamic networks, and manycore machines. The scientific challenges are scalability, fault tolerance, security, dynamicity and the virtualization of the physical infrastructure. Algorithms designed for classical distributed systems, such as resource allocation, data storage and placement, and concurrent and consistent access to shared data, need to be revisited to work properly under the constraints of these new environments.

Regal focuses in particular on two key challenges in these areas: the adaptation of algorithms to the new dynamics of distributed systems and data management on large configurations.

Multicore architectures are everywhere.

The fine-grained parallelism offered by multicore architectures has the potential to open highly parallel computing to new application areas. To make this a reality, however, many issues, including issues that have previously arisen in distributed systems, need to be addressed. Challenges include obtaining a consistent view of shared resources, such as memory, and optimally distributing computations among heterogeneous architectures, such as CPUs, GPUs, and other specialized processors. As compared to distributed systems, in the case of multicore architectures, these issues arise at a more fine-grained level, leading to the need for different solutions and different cost-benefit trade-offs.

Of particular interest to Regal are topics related to memory management in high-end multicore computers, such as garbage collection of very large memories and system support for massive databases of highly-structured data.