Glasgow Systems Section (GLASS)

Stained glass image for the GLASS research sections's page.

Stained glass window by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Hill House, Near Glasgow.

The GLAsgow Systems Section (GLASS) researches parallel and distributed systems, networked systems and (safety-critical) software systems. It is led by Professor Phil Trinder. We have a strong focus on real-world systems, and cover all scales and across the hardware-software spectrum. We contribute to, develop and release open source research software. There are several research groups within the section:

Much of the research we undertake is collaborative and has industrial partners. We work closely with other groups in Computing Science as well as other schools including Engineering. We also work closely with other world leading Universities and many private and public sector organisations (recently: Airbus, Cisco Systems, EDF, Ericsson, GCHQ, IETF, Microsoft Research, NASA).

Systems seminars are usually held on Wednesdays. Everyone from the University of Glasgow and beyond is welcome to attend these talks - see the Events tab for more details. We are happy to hear from anyone that would like to visit us to give a talk.

The Systems seminar coordinators are Natalia Chechina and Magnus Morton.

Academic Staff:

Prof Phil Trinder - Section Leader [staff page] [personal page

Prof Chris Johnson [staff page] [personal page]

Dr William Cockshott [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Sye Loong Keoh [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Lewis MacKenzie [staff page] [personal page]

Dr John O'Donnell [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Inah Omoronyia [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Colin Perkins [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Dimitrios Pezaros [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Jeremy Singer [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Timothy Storer [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Wim Vanderbauwhede [staff page] [personal page]

Research Staff:

Dr Natalia Chechina [staff page] [personal page]

Ms Maria Evangelopoulou [staff page] [personal page]

Mr Kristian Hentschel [staff page] [personal page] 

Mr Simon Jouet [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Patrick Maier [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Syed Waqar Nabi [staff page] [personal page]

Mr Kyle White [staff page] [personal page]

Associate Staff:

Prof Simon Gay [staff page] [personal page]

Prof Peter Triantafillou [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Christos Anagnostopoulos [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Gerardo Aragon-Camarasa [staff page] [personal page]

Dr Nikos Ntarmos [staff page] [personal page]

Research Students:

The section has around 30 research students, and their details are available on the research group pages and on the School postgraduate student page.

Current Projects:

The group is engaged in a wide range of research projects and activities. Most of the research projects below are funded by national or international research programmes.

Crucially the GPG leads the *MaRIONet* network of Excellence and three (from a total of five) of the SADEA projects in the EPSRC Many-core Architectures and Concurrency in Distributed and Embedded Systems (MACDES) priority area

SADEA 1 AnyScale Apps is an EPSRC project (EP/L000725) joint with Manchester and Edinburgh. The project aims to develop a "write once, scale anywhere" software development and deployment paradigm. Apps are composed of runtime components which interact. Each component has several API-compatible variants that offer different cost/benefit tradeoffs. At runtime, the dynamic resource availability determines which variants are executed at particular nodes in the distributed heterogeneous infrastructure. October 2013 - September 2017. 

SADEA 2 Exploiting Parallelism through Type Transformations for Hybrid Manycore Systems (TyTra) is an EPSRC Project (EP/L00058X) joint with Imperial and Heriot-Watt that uses compilation technology to exploit parallelism without changing the program. January 2014 - January 2019. 

SADEA 3 Adaptive JIT-based Parallelism (AJITPar) is an EPSRC Project (EP/L000687) in partnership with Microsoft Labs in Cambridge. The project investigates the feasibility of providing performance portability using a combination of dynamic scheduling and dynamic trace-based Just-In-Time (JIT) compilation. October 2013 - May 2017. 

From Data Types to Session Types: A Basis for Concurrency and Distribution is an EPSRC Programme Grant (EP/K034413) exploring the potential for session types to structure concurrent and distributed software. It is lead by Simon Gay (Glasgow), Philip Wadler (Edinburgh), and Nobuko Yoshida (Imperial). June 2013 - May 2018. 

Border Patrol is an EPSRC project (EP/N028201) that addresses hardware and software cyber security concerns. Joint with Imperial College and Heriot-Watt Universities and EDF, ABB and Xilinx. February 2017 - January 2022. 

COST Action IC1201: Behavioural Types for Reliable Large-Scale Software Systems (BETTY) is chaired by Simon Gay. October 2012 - October 2016. 

A Situtation-Aware Information Infrastructure (SAI2) is an EPSRC project (EP/L026015) that investigates the possibility of designing and developing a generic, resilient and adaptive situation-aware information infrastructure that would predict and confront the broad range of challenges faced by ICT networks. Joint with Lancaster University. February 2015 - August 2017. 

Network Measurement as a Service (NMaaS) is an EPSRC project (EP/N033957) that aims to to design and develop a native Network Measurement-as-a-Service (NMaaS) framework that will allow tenants to express their measurement needs, and to subsequently synthesise the corresponding complex service-level performance functions out of simple monitoring primitives. Joint with University of Edinburgh. September 2016 - August 2019. 

The University of Glasgow Raspberry Pi Cloud project is a teaching and research project centred around the construction of a "scale-model" of a Cloud data centre using energy and cost efficient Raspberry Pi devices. 

Past Projects:

RELEASE: A High-Level Paradigm for Reliable Large-Scale Server Software is an EU FP7 STREP (287510) that aims to scale the radical concurrency-oriented programming paradigm to build reliable general-purpose software, such as server-based systems, on massively parallel machines (100 000 cores). Phil Trinder at Glasgow is the coordinator for the project, and partners include Ericsson, Uppsala Universitet, Kent University, Erlang Solutions Ltd., NTU Athens, and EDF (France). October 2011 - April 2015.

Instrumentation, Measurement, and Control for the Cloud (IMC2) is an EPSRC-funded Project (EP/L005255) that aims to design and develop an always-on Instrumentation, Measurement, and Control (IMC) framework that will dynamically and adaptively provision unified cloud resources in a unified manner and in short timescales. Joint with JANET. April 2014 - July 2015. 

“WebRTC: Media Transport Protocols and Adaption” funded by Ericsson and developing standards for web-based interactive video conferencing, and researching circuit breakers for multimedia congestion control. 2012 - 2015.

CLOPEMA a robot project funded by the EU to develop a clothes folding robot. The Glasgow group is working on the parallel robot vision system. April 2012 - April 2015.

HPC-GAP: High Performance Computational Algebra and Discrete Mathematics is an EPSRC project (EP/G05553X) to improve the software development technologies for HPC software. Our part of the project is to extend high-level parallel Haskell technologies to large scale HPC platforms. The project is a collaboration with Aberdeen, St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities. September 2009 - October 2013.

“Robust Video Streaming over IP” funded by Cisco, studying performance of HTTP-based adaptive streaming for IPTV applications, and improvements to TCP for multimedia. 2010 - 2012.

““Understanding and Reporting on IPTV Behaviour” funded by Cisco (2010-2012), studied scalable reporting for multicast RTP-based IPTV, performance of residential broadband links, and forward error correction. 2010 - 2012.

Members of the Systems section helped design and build Glasgow Parallel Haskell (GpH). It's one of the early robust parallel functional languages, and remains one of the most widely used parallel Haskell models, e.g. the most popular Haskell compiler, GHC supports it on multicores. The sophisticated GUM runtime system supports GpH on distributed-memory machines like clusters. The new GUMSMP runtime system supports GpH on hierarchical architectures like NUMAs or clusters of multicores. 

Members of the Systems section helped design and build Haskell distributed parallel Haskell (HdpH). It's a parallel Haskell for large scale distributed-memory machines like clusters or HPC platforms. Crucially, HdpH is implemented in vanilla (GHC) Haskell. 

Glasgow Network Functions (GNF). 

Extending the matching abilities of OpenFlow.


SDN-based Virtual Machine Management for Cloud Data Centers. 

Members of the Systems section develop and maintain the Vector Pascal compiler and the ILCG code generation toolkit, described here

This Week’s EventsAll Upcoming EventsPast EventsWebapp

This Week’s Events

There are no events scheduled for this week

Upcoming Events

Type-Driven Development of Communicating Systems using Idris

Group: Systems Seminars
Speaker: Dr. Jan de Muijnck-Hughes, University of Glasgow
Date: 01 March, 2017
Time: 13:00 - 14:00
Location: Sir Alwyn Williams Building, 423 Seminar Room

Communicating protocols are a cornerstone of modern system design. However, there is a disconnect between the different tooling used to design, implement and reason about these protocols and their implementations. Session Types are a typing discipline that help resolve this difference by allowing protocol specifications to be used during type-checking to ensure that implementations adhere to a given specification.

Idris is a general purpose programming language that supports full-dependent types, providing programmers with the ability to reason more precisely about programs. This talk introduces =Sessions=, our implementation of Session Types in Idris, and demonstrates =Sessions= ability to design and realise several common protocols.

=Sessions= improves upon existing Session Type implementations by introducing value dependencies between messages and fine-grained channel management during protocol design and implementation. We also use Idris' support for EDSL construction to allow for protocols to be designed and reasoned about in the same language as their implementation. Thereby allowing for an intrinsic bond to be introduced between a protocol's implementation and specification, and also with its verification.

Using =Sessions=, we can reduce the existing disconnect between the tooling used for protocol design, implementation, and verification.

GPU Concurrency: The Wild West of Programming

Group: Systems Seminars
Speaker: Tyler Sorensen, Imperial College London
Date: 08 March, 2017
Time: 13:00 - 14:00
Location: Sir Alwyn Williams Building, 423 Seminar Room

GPUs are co-processors originally designed to accelerate graphics computations. However, their high bandwidth and low energy consumption have led to general purpose applications running on GPUs. To remain relevant in the fast-changing landscape of GPU frameworks, GPU programming models are often vague or underspecified. Because of this, several programming constructs have been developed which violate the official programming models, yet execute successfully on a specific GPU chip, enabling more diverse applications to be written for that specific device. During my PhD, we have examined one such construct: a global synchronisation barrier (or GSB). In this talk, we will address three key questions around this rogue programming construct: (1) Is it *possible* to write a portable GSB that successfully executes on a wide range of today's GPUs? (2) Can a GSB be *useful* for accelerating applications on GPUs? And (3) can a programming model that allows a GSB be *sustainable* for future GPU frameworks? Our hope is that this investigation will help the GSB find a permanent home in GPU programming models, enabling developers to exciting new applications in a safe and portable way.

Short Bio: Tyler’s research interests are in developing and understanding models for testing and safely developing GPU applications which contain irregular computations. In particular, he examines issues related to the GPU relaxed memory model and execution model. He received his MSc from University of Utah in 2014 and worked as an intern for the Nvidia compiler team during the summers of 2013 and 2014.

Walk this Way

Group: Systems Seminars
Speaker: Prof. Des Higham, University of Strathclyde
Date: 22 March, 2017
Time: 13:00 - 14:00
Location: Sir Alwyn Williams Building, 423 Seminar Room

Many applications require us to summarize key properties of a large, complex network. I will focus on the task of quantifying the relative importance, or "centrality" of the network nodes. This task is routinely performed, for example, on networks arising in biology, security, social science and telecommunication. To derive suitable algorithms, the concept of a walk around the network has proved useful; through either the dynamics of random walks or the combinatorics of deterministic walks.

In this talk I will argue that some types of walk are less relevant than others. In particular, eliminating backtracking walks leads to new network centrality measures with attractive properties and, perhaps surprisingly, reduced computational cost. Defining, analysing and implementing these new methods combines ideas from graph theory, matrix polynomial theory and sparse matrix computations.

Past Events

Next Generation Cyber-physical systems (22 February, 2017)

Speaker: Dr Steven J Johnston

Cyber-physical systems (CPS) have peaked in the hype curve and have demonstrated they are here to stay in one form or another. Many cities have attempted to retrofit 'smart' capabilities and there is no shortage of disconnected, often proprietary CPS addressing city infrastructure.

In the same way that online activity evolved from simplistic webpages to feature rich web 2.0, CPS also need to evolve. What will the Smart City 2.0 of tomorrow will look like, how will the architectures will evolve and most importantly how does this address the key challenges of cities; energy, environment and citizens. (Audience interaction welcomed)

Get Your Feet Wet With SDN in a HARMLE$$ Way (21 February, 2017)

Speaker: Levente Csikor

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) offers a new way to operate, manage, and deploy communication networks and to overcome many of the long-standing problems of legacy networking. However, widespread SDN adoption has not occurred yet, due to the lack of a viable incremental deployment path and the relatively immature present state of SDN-capable devices on the market. While continuously evolving software switches may alleviate the operational issues of commercial hardware-based SDN offerings, lagging standards-compliance, performance regressions, and poor scaling, they fail to match the cost-efficiency and port density. In this paper, we propose HARMLESS, a new SDN switch design that seamlessly adds SDN capability to legacy network gear, by emulating the OpenFlow switch OS in a separate software switch component. This way, HARMLESS enables a quick and easy leap into SDN, combining the rapid innovation and upgrade cycles of software switches with the port density and cost-efficiency of hardware-based appliances into a fully dataplane-transparent and vendor-neutral solution. HARMLESS incurs an order of magnitude smaller initial expenditure for an SDN deployment than existing turnkey vendor SDN solutions while, at the same time, yields matching, or even better, data plane performance.

Network-layer QoE-Fairness for Encrypted Adaptive Video Streams (15 February, 2017)

Speaker: Dr Marwan Fayed

Netflix, YouTube, iPlayer, are increasingly targets of the following complaint: "How come my child gets HD streams on her phone, while I'm stuck with terrible quality on my 50 inch TV?" Recent studies observe that competing adaptive video streams generate flows that lead to instability, under-utilization, and unfairness behind bottleneck links. Additional measurements suggest there may also be a negative impact on users' perceived quality of experience as a consequence. Intuitively, application-generated issues should be resolved at the application layer. In this presentation I shall demonstrate that fairness, by any definition, can only be solved in the network. Moreover, that in an increasingly HTTP-S world, some form of client interaction is required. In support, a new network-layer 'QoE-fairness' metric will be be introduced that reflects user experience. Experiments using our open-source implementation in the home environment reinforce the network-layer as the right place to attack the general problem.




Bio: Marwan Fayed received his MA from Boston University and his PhD from the University of Ottawa, in 2003 and 2009 respectively, and in between worked at Microsoft as a member of the Core Reliability Group. He joined the faculty at the University of Stirling, UK in 2009 as under the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) scheme. He recently held the appointment of 'Theme Leader' for networking research in Scotland. His current research interests lie in wireless algorithms, as well as general network, transport, and measurement in next generation edge networks. He is a co-founder of HUBS c.i.c., an ISP focussed on rural communities; recipient of an IEEE CCECE best paper award; and serves on committees at IEEE and ACM conferences.

The Last of the Big Ones: Crazy Stone, AlphaGo, and Master (14 February, 2017)

Speaker: John O'Donnell

The computer program AlphaGo made history in 2016 by defeating Lee Sedol, one of the top professional go players, in a five game match.  A few weeks ago, an updated version of AlphaGo played 60 games against professionals and won them all.  The current generation of strong go programs use neural networks and Monte Carlo tree search.  These programs have a distinctive playing style and occasionally make astonishing moves, raising questions that are presently the focus of intensive research.  This talk will explore some of these issues, and illustrate them with incidents from the history of go as well as from the recent games by computers.

Inference-Based Automated Probabilistic Programming in Distributed Embedded Node Networks (08 February, 2017)

Speaker: Dr. Mark Post

Driven by ever more demanding applications, modern embedded computing and automation systems have reached unprecedented levels of complexity. Dr. Post’s research focuses on applying novel software and hardware architectures to simplify and distribute the structure of robots and other embedded systems, to make them robust and able to operate under uncertainty, and also allow to for more efficient and automated development processes. One way to achieve this is via the unification of programming and data, made possible by using probabilistic abstractions of exact data. In a new methodology for embedded programming developed through this research, exact variables are replaced with random variables and a computation process is defined based on evidence theory and probabilistic inference. This has many advantages including the implicit handling of uncertainty, a guarantee of deterministic program execution, and the ability to apply both statistical on-line learning and expert knowledge from relational semantic sources. Implementation on real-time systems is made reliable and practical by applying modular and lock-free inter-process communication, semantic introspection and stochastic characterization of processes to build robust embedded networks based on wide-computing concepts. This methodology in general has a vast array of potential real-world applications, and some aspects have been applied successfully to embedded programming of planetary rovers and agricultural robots.

The Problem of Validation in Systems Engineering (07 February, 2017)

Speaker: Robbie Simpson

Systems Engineering makes extensive use of modelling and analysis methodologies to design and analyse systems. However, it is rare for these methodologies to be effectively validated for correctness or utility. Additionally, the common use of case studies as an implicit validation mechanism is undermined by the lack of validation of these case studies themselves. This talk explores the problem of validation with specific reference to requirements engineering and safety analysis techniques, identifies the main shortcomings and attempts to propose some potential solutions.

intra-systems: TBA (07 February, 2017)

Speaker: Robbie Simpson

Research On Network Intrusion Detection Systems and Beyond (06 February, 2017)

Speaker: Dr Kostas Kyriakopoulos

The talk will go through the overview of research conducted in the "Signal Processing and Networks" group at Loughborough University, with a strong emphasis on the “Networks" side. We have developed algorithms for fusing cross layer measurements using the Dempster Shafer evidence framework to make decisions on whether packets/frames in the network are coming from a malicious source or from the legitimate Access Point. We are currently researching on how to infuse this system with contextual information besides the direct measurements from the network. The talk will also discuss other Networks relevant topics, including Ontologies for management of networks and some brief introduction to the group’s Signal Processing expertise in Signal Processing for defence areas.

Pycket: A Tracing JIT for a functional language (01 February, 2017)

Speaker: Sam Tobin-Hochstadt

Functional languages have traditionally had sophisticated ahead-of-time compilers such as GHC for Haskell, MLton for ML, and Gambit for Scheme. But other modern languages often use JIT compilers, such as Java, Smalltalk, Lua, or JavaScript. Can we apply JIT compilers, in particular the technology of so-called tracing JIT compilers, to functional languages? I will present a new implementation of Racket, called Pycket, which shows that this is both possible and effective. Pycket is very fast on a wide range of benchmarks, supports most of Racket, and even addresses the overhead of gradual typing-generated proxies.

Biography: Sam Tobin-Hochstadt is an Assistant Professor in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. He has worked on dynamic languages, type systems, module systems, and metaprogramming, including creating the Typed Racket system and popularizing the phrase "scripts to programs." He is a member of the ECMA TC39 working group responsible for standardizing JavaScript, where he co-designed the module system for ES6, the next version of JavaScript. He received his PhD in 2010 from Northeastern University under Matthias Felleisen.

Intra-Systems Seminar (24 January, 2017)

Speaker: Jeremy Singer

Jermey presents an analysis of beginner Haskell code.

Exploiting Memory-Level Parallelism (18 January, 2017)

Speaker: Dr Timothy M Jones

Many modern data processing and HPC workloads are heavily memory-latency bound. Current architectures and compilers perform poorly on these applications due to the highly irregular nature of the memory access patterns involved. This leads to CPU stalling for the majority of the time. However, on closer inspection, these applications contain abundant memory-level parallelism that is currently unexploited. Data accesses are, in many cases, well defined and predictable in advance, falling into a small set of simple patterns. To exploit them though, we require new methods for prefetching, in hardware and software.

In this talk I will describe some of the work my group has been doing in this area over the past couple of years. First, I'll show a compiler pass to automatically generate software prefetches for indirect memory accesses, a special class of irregular memory accesses often seen in high-performance workloads. Next, I'll describe a dedicated hardware prefetcher that optimises breadth-first traversals of large graphs. Finally, I'll present a generic programmable prefetcher that embeds an array of small microcontroller-sized cores next to the L1 cache in a high-performance processor. Using an event-based programming model, programmers are able to realise performance increases of over 4x by manual creation of prefetch code, or 3.5x for the same application using an automatic compiler pass.

SpaceTime - A fresh view on Parallel Programming (14 December, 2016)

Speaker: Prof Sven-Bodo Scholz

Traditionally, programs are specified in terms of data structures and successive modifications of these. This separation dictates at what time which piece of data is located in what space, be it main memory, disc or registers. When aiming at high-performance, parallel executions of programs, it turns out that the choice of this time / space separation can have a vast impact on the performance that can be achieved. Consequently, a lot of work has been spent on compiler technology for identifying dependencies between data and on techniques for rearranging codes for improved locality with respect to both, time and space. As it turns out, the programmer specified choice of data-structures often limits what can be achieved by such optimisation techniques. In this talk, we argue that a new way of formulating parallel programs that is based on a unified view on space and time not only matches much better typical scientific specifications, it also increases the re-usability of programs and, most importantly, it enables more radical space-time optimisations through compilers.

Reviewing the Systems Curriculum Review (13 December, 2016)

Speaker: Colin Perkins

Over the last few months, the Section has been engaged in a review of our undergraduate curriculum and teaching. This talk will outline the changes we’re proposing, and what we hope to achieve by doing so

Knights Landing, MCDRAM, and NVRAM: The changing face of HPC technology (07 December, 2016)

Speaker: Mr Adrian Jackson

The hardware used in HPC systems is becoming much more diverse than we have been used to in recent times. Intel's latest Xeon Phi processor, the Knights Landing (KNL), is one example of such change, however bigger changes in memory technologies and hierarchies are on the way. In this talk I will outline our experiences with the KNL, how future memory technologies are likely to impact the hardware in HPC systems, and what these changes might mean for users.

Performance Evaluation for CloudSim - Cloud Computing Simulator (06 December, 2016)

Speaker: Dhahi Alshammari

Much cloud computing research is performed using simulators. There are many simulators available. One of the most common simulators is "CloudSim", which is widely used as a cloud research tool.  This talk will review briefly the CloudSim system and its various extensions. The extensions provide additional usability features and improved simulation fidelity. I will further present results of an empirical study to evaluate the precision of CloudSim by comparing it with actual test-bed results from the Glasgow Raspberry Pi Cloud infrastructure

Erlyberly - Erlang tracing for the masses (30 November, 2016)

Speaker: Mr Andy Till

The BEAM virtual machine has flexible and powerful tooling for introspection, statistics and debugging without affecting the running application. Erlyberly is an ongoing project to lower the barrier for entry for using these capabilities, focusing on tracing.

Raspberry Pi based sensor platform for a smart campus (29 November, 2016)

Speaker: Dejice Jacob

In a sensor network, using sensor nodes with significant compute 
capability can enable flexible data collection, processing and reaction. This
can be done using commodity single-board computers. In this talk, we will be
describing initial deployment, software architecture and some preliminary analysis.

Data Structures as Closures (23 November, 2016)

Speaker: Prof Greg Michaelson

In formalising denotational semantics, Strachey introduced a higher order update function for the modelling of stores, states and environments. This function relies solely on atomic equality types, lambda abstractions and conditions to represent stack disciplined association sequences as structured closures, without recourse to data structure constructs like lists.

Here, we present higher order functions that structure closures to model queue, linear ordered and tree disciplined look up functions, again built from moderately sugared pure lambda functions. We also discuss their type properties and practical implementation.

intra-systems: TBA (22 November, 2016)

Speaker: John O'Donnell

Automatic detection of parallel code: dependencies and beyond (16 November, 2016)

Speaker: Mr Stan Manilov

Automatic parallelisation is an old research topic, but unfortunately, it
has always been over-promising and under-performing. In this talk, we'll
look at the main approaches towards automatically detecting parallelism in
legacy sequentialcode and we'll follow with some fresh ideas we're working
on, aiming to bring us beyond the ubiquitous dependence analysis.

Device Comfort for Information Accessibility (15 November, 2016)

Speaker: Tosan Atele-Williams

Device comfort is an augmented notion of trust that embodies a relationship between a device, its owner and the environment, with the device able to act, advice, encourage, and reason about everyday interactions, including a minutely precise comprehension of information management and personal security of device owner. The growing privacy and security needs in an increasingly intuitive, interactive and interconnected society contends with Device Comfort as information security methodology based on trust reasoning. In this paper an information accessibility architecture based on java security sandbox that uses device comfort methodology is presented, a further look at how information can be classified based on trust ratings and sensitivity, and how everything within this definition is confined to trusted zones or dimensions. 

Dynamically Estimating Mean Task Runtimes (08 November, 2016)

Speaker: Patrick Maier

The AJITPar project aims to automatically tune skeleton-based parallel
programs such that the task granularity falls within a range that
promises decent performance: Tasks should run long enough to amortise
scheduling overheads, but not too long.

In this talk, I will sketch how AJITPar uses dynamic cost models to
accurately estimate mean task runtimes, despite irregular task sizes.
The key is random scheduling and robust linear regression.

(Joint work with Magnus Morton and Phil Trinder.)

Image processing on FPGAs with a DSL and dataflow transformations (02 November, 2016)

Speaker: Dr Rob Stewart

FPGAs are chips that can be reconfigured to exactly match the structure
of a specific algorithm. They are faster than CPUs and need less power
than GPUs, and hence are well suited for remote image processing needs.
They are however notoriously difficult to program, which is often done
by hardware experts working at a very low level. This excludes algorithm
designers across a range of real world domains from exploiting FPGA
technology. Moreover, time and space optimisation opportunities found in
compilers of high level languages cannot be applied to low level
hardware descriptions.

This talk will be in three parts. 1) I will present RIPL, our image
processing FPGA DSL. It comprises algorithmic skeletons influenced by
stream combinator languages, meaning the RIPL compiler is able to
generate space efficient hardware. 2) I will demonstrate our compiler
based dataflow transformations framework, which optimises the dataflow
IR form of RIPL programs before they are synthesised to FPGAs. 3) I will
describe the FPGA based smart camera architecture that RIPL programs
slot into, which is used for evaluation.

Scaling robots and other stuff with Erlang (01 November, 2016)

Speaker: Natalia Chechina

I’m going to give this talk at the end of November at BuildStuff developer conferences in Vilnius (Lithuania) and Kiev (Ukraine).  So it’s a bit skewed towards developer community rather than research community.  Any feedback will be very much appreciated.


I’ll talk about scalability and fault tolerance features of distributed Erlang. In particular, what makes it so good for large scale distributed applications on commodity hardware, where devices are inherently non-reliable and can disappear and re-appear at any moment.


The talk is based on experience of developing Scalable Distributed Erlang (SD Erlang -- a small extension of distributed Erlang for distributed scalability) and integrating Erlang in robotics. So, I’ll share rationale behind design decisions for SD Erlang, lessons learned, advantages, limitations, and plans for the further development. And then talk about benefits of Erlang in distributed robotics, initial findings, and plans.

The Missing Link! A new Skeleton for Evolutionary Multi-Agent Systems in Erlang (26 October, 2016)

Speaker: Prof Kevin Hammond

Evolutionary multi-agent systems (EMAS) play a critical role in many artificial intelligence applications that are in use today. This talk will describe a new parallel pattern for parallel EMAS computations, and its associated skeleton implementation, written in Erlang using the Skel library. The skeleton enables us to flexibly capture a wide variety of concrete evolutionary computations that can exploit the same underlying parallel implementation. The use of the skeleton is shown on two different evolutionary computing applications: i) computing the minimum of the Rastrigin function; and ii) solving an urban traffic optimization problem. We can obtain very good speedups (up to 142.44× the sequential performance) on a variety of different parallel hardware from Raspberry Pis to large-scale multicores and Xeon Phi accelerators, while requiring very little parallelisation effort.

Power, Precision and EPCC (25 October, 2016)

Speaker: Blair Archibald

 I have recently returned from a summer working at EPCC, one of the
  largest high performance computing (HPC) centres in the UK. In this
  talk I'll give give a whirlwind tour of what I got up to during my
  time there!

  I'll start by describing EPCC itself and how it fits into the wider
  HPC community. Then will dive into two of the projects I was involved
  in over summer.

  Firstly, the Adept project which tackles the challenges presented by
  the need for energy efficient computing. This project relies heavily
  on custom hardware to gain fine grain knowledge of power usage. We
  will see how at how energy scales with parallel efficiency, the
  potential hidden cost of programming languages, and some interesting
  future research directions.

  Next, the ExaFLOW project aimed at providing the next generation of
  computational fluid dynamics codes (ready for the "Exa-scale" era).
  We will dive into mixed precision analysis and discover how we can
  analyse floating-point behaviour of scientific codes by way of binary

From Robotic Ecologies to Internet of Robotic Things: Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering Issues (19 October, 2016)

Speaker: Dr Mauro Dragone

Building smart spaces combining IoT technology and robotic
capabilities is an important and extended challenge for EU R&D&I, and a key
enabler for a range of advanced applications, such as home automation,
manufacturing, and ambient assisted living (AAL). In my talk I will provide an
overview of robotic ecologies, i.e. systems made up of sensors, actuators and
(mobile) robots that cooperate to accomplish complex tasks. I will discuss the
Robotic Ecology vision and highlight how it shares many similarities with the
Internet of Things (IoT): The ideal aim on both fronts is that arbitrary
combinations of devices should be able to be deployed in everyday environments,
and there efficiently provide useful services. However, while this has the
potential to deliver a range of disruptive services and address some of the
limitations of current IoT efforts, their effective realization necessitates
both novel software engineering solutions and artificial intelligence methods
to simplify their large scale application in real world settings. I will
illustrate these issues by focusing on the results of the EU project RUBICON
( RUBICON built robotic ecologies that can learn to adapt to
changing and evolving requirements with minimum supervision. The RUBICON
approach builds upon a unique combination of methods from cognitive robotics,
machine learning, wireless sensor networks and software engineering. I will
summarise the lessons learned by adopting such an approach and outline
promising directions for future developments.



Mauro Dragone is Assistant Professor with the Research Institute of Signals,
Sensors and Systems (ISSS), School of Engineering & Physical Sciences at
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Centre for Robotics. Dr. Dragone gained more
than 12 years of experience as a software architect and project manager in the
software industry before his involvement with academia. His research expertise
includes robotics, human-robot interaction, wireless sensor networks and
software engineering. Dr. Dragone was involved in a number of EU projects
investigating Internet of Things (IoT) and intelligent control solutions for
smart environments, before initiating and leading the EU project RUBICON

Data Plane Programmability for Software Defined Networks (18 October, 2016)

Speaker: Simon Jouet

OpenFlow has established itself as the defacto standard for Software Defined Networking (SDN) by separating the network's control and data planes. In this approach a central controller can alter the match-action pipeline of the individual switches using a limited set of fields and actions preventing. This inherent rigidity prevents the rapid introduction of new data plane functionality that would enable the design of new forwarding logic and other packet processing such as custom routing, telemetry, debugging, security, and quality of service.

In this talk I will present BPFabric a platform, protocol, and language-independent architecture to centrally program and monitor the data plane. It will cover the design of the switches and how they defer from "legacy" or OpenFlow switches and the design of a control API to orchestrate the infrastructure.


Turbocharging Rack-Scale In-Memory Computing with Scale-Out NUMA (12 October, 2016)

Speaker: Dr Boris Grot

Web-scale online services mandate fast access to massive quantities of
data. In practice, this is accomplished by sharding the datasets across a
pool of servers within a datacenter and keeping each shard within a
server's main memory to avoid long-latency disk I/O. Accesses to non-local
shards take place over the datacenter network, incurring communication
delays that are 20-1000x greater than accesses to local memory. In this
talk, I will introduce Scale-Out NUMA -- a rack-scale architecture with an
RDMA-inspired programming model that eliminates chief latency overheads of
existing networking technologies and reduces the remote memory access
latency to a small factor of local DRAM. I will overview key features of
Scale-Out NUMA and will describe how it can bridge the semantic gap
between software and hardware through integrated support for atomic object


Boris Grot is a Lecturer in the School of Informatics at the University of
Edinburgh. His research seeks to address efficiency bottlenecks and
capability shortcomings of processing platforms for big data. His recent
accomplishments include an IEEE Micro Top Pick and a Google Faculty
Research Award. Grot received his PhD in Computer Science from The
University of Texas at Austin and spent two years as a post-doctoral
fellow at the Parallel Systems Architecture Lab at EPFL.

Full Section Meeting and Strategic Discussion (11 October, 2016)

Speaker: Phil Trinder

This session is essential for all members of the Systems Section. We will

  • Meet new PhD students in the section
  • Discuss progress since the Away Day
  • Discuss strategic plans, including:
    • A Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) proposal
    • A high-profile Section Workshop as part of the School’s 60th anniversary celebrations

 Feel free to propose other topics by email to


Towards Reliable and Scalable Robot Communication (10 October, 2016)

Speaker: Phil Trinder

The Robot Operating System (ROS) is the de facto standard middleware

for modern robots. However, communication between 

ROS nodes has scalability and reliability issues in practice. This talk reports 

an  investigation into whether Erlang’s lightweight concurrency

and reliability mechanisms have the potential to address these issues.

The basis of the investigation is a pair of simple but typical

robotic control applications, namely two face-trackers: one using

ROS publish/subscribe messaging, and the other a bespoke Erlang

communication framework.


The talk reports experiments that compare five key aspects of the ROS

and Erlang face trackers. We find that Erlang communication scales

better, supporting at least 3.5 times more active processes (700 processes)

than its ROS-based counterpart (200 nodes) while consuming

half of the memory. However, while both face tracking prototypes

exhibit similar detection accuracy and transmission latencies

with 10 or fewer workers, Erlang exhibits a continuous increase in

the total time taken to process a frame as more agents are added,

which we have identified is caused by function calls from Erlang

processes to Python modules via ErlPort. A reliability study shows

that while both ROS and Erlang restart failed computations, the

Erlang processes restart 1000–1500 times faster than ROS nodes,

reducing robot component downtime and mitigating the impact of

the failures.


Joint work with Andreea Lutac, Natalia Chechina, and Gerardo Aragon-Camarasa


Teach You a Haskell Course (20 September, 2016)

Speaker: Jeremy Singer

This week, our Functional Programming in Haskell course began. We have around 4000 learners signed up for this massive open online course. Wim and I have spent the past six months developing the learning materials, mostly adapted from the traditional Functional Programming 4 course.

In this talk, I will give an overview of the challenges involved in setting up and running an online course. In short, hard work but very rewarding!

Systems: Climate is what you expect, the weather is what you get! (13 September, 2016)

Speaker: Professor Saji Hameed

This old saying among weather forecasters is correct. Yet it does give little insight into the workings of the climate system.  While weather can be understood and simulated as instabilities arising within  the atmosphere,  climate involves interactions and exchanges of properties among a wide variety of subsystems that include for example the atmosphere, the ocean and land subsystems. I will first discuss an example of these interactions at play showcasing the El Nino phenomenon.  In the rest of the talk, I will endeavor to describe how software for climate models integrates experiences and expertise  across a wide range of disciplines and the computational challenges faced by the climate modeling community in doing so.

Biography: Professor Hameed is a Senior Associate Professor at the University of Aizu in Fukushima, Japan. He was the Director of Science at APCC, Korea and has been appointed a Senior Visiting Scientist at Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTECH).

He is credited with the discovery of an ocean-atmosphere coupled mode "Indian Ocean Dipole" which radically changed the prevailing paradigms. At APCC he pioneered an information technology based approach for generating and distributing climate information for societal benefit. He has also worked with APCC and its international partners to develop a climate prediction based approach to managing severe haze and forest fires in Southeast Asia, a severe environmental pollution issue in the area. He is also closely working with scientists at the National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology (Japan) to apply climate and weather science for renewable energy applications.

His current work includes investigating Super El Nino using computational modeling approaches, analyzing climate data using machine learning algorithms, tracking clouds and rain with low cost GPS chips, and continuing investigation into Indian Ocean Dipole that affects global climate.

Systems Seminar: Sorting Sheep from Goats - Automatically Clustering and Classifying Program Failures (07 September, 2016)

Speaker: Marc Roper

In recent years, software testing research has produced notable advances in the area of automated test data generation. It is now possible to take an arbitrary system and automatically generate volumes of high-quality test data. But the problem of checking the correctness or otherwise of the outputs (termed the "oracle problem") still remains.
This talk examines how machine learning techniques can be used to cluster and classify test outputs to separate failing and passing cases.
The feasibility of the approach is demonstrated and shown to have the potential to reduce by an order of magnitude the numbers of outputs that need to be examined following a test run.

This is joint work carried out with Rafig Almaghairbe

Biography: Dr Marc Roper is a Reader in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at the University of Strathclyde. He has an extensive background in software engineering, particularly in understanding and addressing the problems associated with designing, testing, and evolving large software systems. Much of his research has incorporated significant empirical investigations: either based around controlled participant-based experiments or through the the analysis of open-source systems and large-scale repositories. His more recent work has explored the application of search-based strategies and machine learning techniques to software engineering problems such as test data generation, the identification of security anomalies, and automatic fault detection. His current interests lie in the area of software analytics, in particular building models of software systems behaviour to automatically identify and locate faults.

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