The 2014 Dijkstra Prize goes to…

Mani Chandy (one of our own) and Leslie Lamport (whom we’ve blogged about before).  Congrats, Mani!

The Dijkstra prize was awarded for one of Mani’s most well-known and influential papers: Distributed snapshots: determining global states of distributed systems.  Though, as an aside, when I first came to Caltech, I knew Mani as the “C” in the BCMP theorem, which laid the basis for the study of queueing networks.  Given that my thesis was primarily on queueing and scheduling, he was one of the godfathers… But, as influential as the BCMP theorem has been, I’d say it still falls second to the distributed snapshots paper, which has laid the foundation for the implementation of distributed algorithms and distributed systems.

As the citation for the award says: “The paper provides the first clear understanding of the definition of consistent global states in distributed systems. […] It has led to concepts such as vector time, isomorphism of executions, global predicate detection, and concurrent common knowledge. Applications of the results of observing the system in consistent states include the development of vector clocks, checkpointing and message logging protocols, correct protocols for detecting stable properties such as distributed deadlocks and termination, mutual exclusion algorithms, garbage collection protocols, cache coherency and file coherency protocols in distributed replicated file systems, distributed debugging protocols, protocols for total message order and causal message order in group communication systems, global virtual time algorithms used particularly in parallel and distributed simulations of discrete event systems, and collaborative sessions and editing protocols in wide area systems and on the grid.”

Fall is here: Welcome new RSRGers

While other universities have been back in session for a while now, we’re just getting started here at Caltech.  Today begins our orientation week, so we have lots of new grads and postdocs showing up these days!

So, I wanted to use this post to give an official welcome to the new RSRG students (John Pang, Rachel Cummings, and Linqi Guo) and the new CMI postdocs (Quentin Berthet, Georgios Piliouras, Krishnamurthy Dvijotham, and Piyush Srivastava).  Welcome all!

And, we’re especially excited that we have three new faculty joining this fall: Yisong Yue, Thomas Vidick, and Victoria Kostina.  Yisong and Thomas are finally joining us after deferring for postdocs, while Victoria is fresh off of last year’s job market.  Being such a small place, we’re not used to having so many new faces join at once, so it’s quite exciting:  welcome Yisong, Thomas, and Victoria!

…and for those readers who are going on to the job market this year.  Don’t worry, we’ll be searching for new faculty again in the coming year too!

A Network of Intelligent DER

Energy and the environment are probably the most critical and massive problems of our time. The transformation of our energy system into a more sustainable form will take decades, determination, and sacrifices. In the case of power networks, several powerful trends are driving major changes. In this post, we will look at two of them.

The first trend is the accelerating penetration of distributed energy resources (DER) around the world. These DER include photovoltaic (PV) panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, storage devices, smart appliances, smart buildings, smart inverters, and other power electronics. Their growth is driven by policies and incentive programs. California, for instance, has ambitious policy goals such as:

  • Renewable Portfolio Standard (2002): 33% of retail electricity will be procured from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Global Warming Solutions Act (2006): Reduce greenhouse gas emission to 1990 level by 2020.
  • California Solar Initiative (2007): Offers solar rebates for customers of three CA investor-owned utilities, from 2007 – 2016.
  • ZNE homes (2007): All new residential construction will be zero net energy by 2020.
  • Energy storage target (2010): The three investor-owned utilities will deploy 1.325 GW of non-hydro storage by 2020.

Leading the world, in terms of percentage share of non-hydro renewable generations (at approximately 20% now), is Germany.  Its relentless push for renewables, in the face of technical and financial challenges, will no doubt help find a way forward and benefit us all.  See a recent New York Times article, where a proud German reader commented, “And that’s what I love about my country, it is a pain, it causes frustration and malice, but nobody questions the vision.”   The question is not whether we should move to a sustainable future, but how we overcome the many challenges on the way (e.g., see Adam’s earlier post about Germany’s challenges), and the earlier we start, the less painful the process will be.

The second trend is the growth of sensors, computing devices, and actuators that are connected to the Internet. Cisco claims that the number of Internet-connected “things” exceeded the number of people on earth in 2008, and, by 2020, the planet will be enveloped in 50 billion such “Internet-of-things.”  Just as Internet has grown into a global platform for innovations for cyber systems in the last 20 years, Internet-of-things will become a global platform for innovations in cyber-physical systems.  Much data will be generated at network edges. An important implication on computing is that, instead of bringing data across the network to applications in the cloud, we will need to bring applications to data. Distributed analytics and control will be the dominant paradigm in such an environment. This is nicely explained by Michael Enescu (a Caltech alum!) in a recent keynote.

The confluence of these two trends points to a future where there are billions of DER, as well as sensing, computing, communication, and storage devices throughout our electricity infrastructure, from generation to transmission and distribution to end use. Unlike most endpoints today which are merely passive loads, these DER are active endpoints that not only consume, but can also generate, sense, compute, communicate, and actuate. They will create both a severe risk and a tremendous opportunity: a large network of DER introducing rapid, large, frequent, and random fluctuations in power supply and demand, voltage and frequency, and our increased capability to coordinate and optimize their operation in real time.

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It’s almost time for NEGT again

Every year (since 2009) in the fall, all of the folks in southern California that work at the border of economics and CS/EE get together for the Network Economics and Game Theory (NEGT) workshop.  The hosting duties rotate between USC, UCLA, and Caltech, and this year the honor falls to us here at Caltech.

We’ve just finished finalizing the program — and it’s a great one.  So, if you’re in the area, come on by!

We’re holding it on Nov 20-21.  We’ll have a very reasonable start time each day of 10am so that folks try to avoid LA traffic in the morning, and we’ll end both days with a reception so that you can avoid traffic on the way home, too.  Markus Mobius (MSR) and Tim Roughgarden (Stanford) are the keynotes, and then we have a great list of invited speakers from all across Southern California to round out the program.

Attendance is free, but please register early, if possible, so that we can plan the catering!  Also, we’ll have a poster session for students to present work (and work-in-progress).  If you’re interested, just sign up when you register.

The consequences of losing net neutrality

Net neutrality has been a hot topic in recent months, one with a lot of emotional baggage and rhetoric that makes it difficult to follow the core issues.  I’m not going to attempt to unravel things here; after all, it is a topic of hundreds of research papers over the last decade, so it would take more than a short blog post to really get into the issues.  Rather, I want to make a simple point that is often missed.

We are in the middle of a large-scale experiment on the impact of net neutrality, and the effects of a loss of net neutrality have proven disastrous.

Why do I say this?  Well, net neutrality has never existed for mobile devices, so by comparing the mobile experience (and contracting) with the wired world, we can already observe the consequences of giving up net neutrality, and they are clearly worrisome.

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