Building scalable software systems in the multicore era

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Rajan, Hridesh
Professor and Department Chair of Computer Science
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Computer Science

Computer Science—the theory, representation, processing, communication and use of information—is fundamentally transforming every aspect of human endeavor. The Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University advances computational and information sciences through; 1. educational and research programs within and beyond the university; 2. active engagement to help define national and international research, and 3. educational agendas, and sustained commitment to graduating leaders for academia, industry and government.

The Computer Science Department was officially established in 1969, with Robert Stewart serving as the founding Department Chair. Faculty were composed of joint appointments with Mathematics, Statistics, and Electrical Engineering. In 1969, the building which now houses the Computer Science department, then simply called the Computer Science building, was completed. Later it was named Atanasoff Hall. Throughout the 1980s to present, the department expanded and developed its teaching and research agendas to cover many areas of computing.

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Software systems must face two challenges today: growing complexity and increasing parallelism in the underlying computational models. The problem of increased complexity is often solved by dividing systems into modules in a way that permits analysis of these modules in isolation. The problem of lack of concurrency is often tackled by dividing system execution into tasks that permits execution of these tasks in isolation. The key challenge in software design is to manage the explicit and implicit dependence between modules that decreases modularity. The key challenge for concurrency is to manage the explicit and implicit dependence between tasks that decreases parallelism. Even though these challenges appear to be strikingly similar, current software design practices and languages do not take advantage of this similarity. The net effect is that the modularity and concurrency goals are often tackled mutually exclusively. Making progress towards one goal does not naturally contribute towards the other. My position is that for programmers that are not formally and rigorously trained in the concurrency discipline the safest and most productive way to get scalability in their software is by improving modularity of their software using programming language features and design practices that reconcile modularity and concurrency goals. I briefly discuss preliminary efforts of my group, but we have only touched the tip of the iceberg.


This proceeding is published as Rajan, Hridesh. "Building scalable software systems in the multicore era." In Proceedings of the FSE/SDP workshop on Future of software engineering research, pp. 293-298. ACM, 2010. doi:10.1145/1882362.1882423. Posted with permission.

Fri Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2010