Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
Overall Objectives
Research Program
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Research Program

Systemizing Modular Distributed Computability and Efficiency

The applications and services envisaged in Objectives 1 and 2 will lead to increasingly complex and multifaceted systems. Constructing these novel hybrid and decentralized systems will naturally push our need to understand distributed computing beyond the current state of the art. These trends therefore demand research efforts in establishing sound theoretical foundations to allow everyday developers to master the design, properties and implementation of these systems. We plan to investigate these foundations along two directions: first by studying novel approaches to some fundamental problems of mutual exclusion and distributed coordination, and second by exploring how we can build a comprehensive and modular framework capturing the foundations of distributed computation.

Randomized algorithm for mutual exclusion and coordination

To exploit the power of massive distributed applications and systems (such as those envisaged in Objectives 1 and 2) or multiple processors, algorithms must cope with the scale and asynchrony of these systems, and their inherent instability, e.g., due to node, link, or processor failures. Our goal is to explore the power and limits of randomized algorithms for large-scale networks of distributed systems, and for shared memory multi-processor systems, in effect providing fundamental building blocks to the work envisioned in Objectives 1 and 2.

For shared memory systems, randomized algorithms have notably proved extremely useful to deal with asynchrony and failures. Sometimes probabilistic algorithms provide the only solution to a problem; sometimes they are more efficient; sometimes they are simply easier to implement. We plan to devise efficient algorithms for some of the fundamental problems of shared memory computing, such as mutual exclusion, renaming, and consensus.

In particular, looking at the problem of mutual exclusion, it is desirable that mutual exclusion algorithms be abortable. This means that a process that is trying to lock the resource can abort its attempt in case it has to wait too long. Abortability is difficult to achieve for mutual exclusion algorithms. We will try to extend our algorithms for the cache-coherent (CC) and the distributed shared memory (DSM) model in order to make them abortable, while maintaining expected constant Remote Memory References (RMRs) complexity, under optimistic system assumptions. In order to achieve this, the algorithm will use strong synchronization primitives, called compare-and-swap objects. As part of our collaboration with the University of Calgary, we will work on implementing those objects from registers in such a way that they also allow aborts. Our goal is to build on existing non-abortable implementations [59]. We plan then later to use these objects as building blocks in our mutual exclusion algorithm, in order to make them work even if the system does not readily provide such primitives.

We have also started working on blockchains, as these represent a new and interesting trade-off between probabilistic guarantees, scalability, and system dynamics, while revisiting some of the fundamental questions and limitations of consensus in fault-prone asynchronous systems.

Modular theory of distributed computing

Practitioners and engineers have proposed a number of reusable frameworks and services to implement specific distributed services (from Remote Procedure Calls with Java RMI or SOAP-RPC, to JGroups for group communication, and Apache Zookeeper for state machine replication). In spite of the high conceptual and practical interest of such frameworks, many of these efforts lack a sound grounding in distributed computation theory (with the notable exceptions of JGroups and Zookeeper), and often provide punctual and partial solutions for a narrow range of services. We argue that this is because we still lack a generic framework that unifies the large body of fundamental knowledge on distributed computation that has been acquired over the last 40 years.

To overcome this gap we would like to develop a systematic model of distributed computation that organizes the functionalities of a distributed computing system into reusable modular constructs assembled via well-defined mechanisms that maintain sound theoretical guarantees on the resulting system. This research vision arises from the strong belief that distributed computing is now mature enough to resolve the tension between the social needs for distributed computing systems, and the lack of a fundamentally sound and systematic way to realize these systems.

To progress on this vision, we plan in the near future to investigate, from a distributed software point of view, the impact due to failures and asynchrony on the layered architecture of distributed computing systems. A first step in this direction will address the notions of message adversaries (introduced a long time ago in  [70]) and process adversaries (investigated in several papers, e.g.  [69], [56], [62], [63], [67]). The aim of these notions is to consider failures, not as “bad events”, but as part of the normal behavior of a system. As an example, when considering round-based algorithms, a message adversary is a daemon which, at every round, is allowed to suppress some messages. The aim is then, given a problem P, to find the strongest adversary under which P can be solved (“strongest” means here that giving more power to the adversary makes the problem impossible to solve). This work will allow us to progress in terms of general layered theory of distributed computing, and allow us to better map distributed computing models and their relations, in the steps of noticeable early efforts in this direction  [69], [43].