Thursday, October 31, 2019

SOSP'19 Day 0

I attended SOSP this week. SOSP is the premier conference on systems where 500+ researchers follow 30+ paper presentations in a single-track event over three days. SOSP is held every two years --on odd years, alternating with OSDI which is held on the even years.

This was my third SOSP. I had been to SOSP 2009 at Big Sky Montana and SOSP 2013 at Nemacolin Pennsylvania. It is always a treat to attend SOSP. I get to learn new ideas and meet with interesting people. SOSP never fails to impress me with the quality of papers and presentations. I attended almost all of the sessions on Monday and Tuesday and took a lot of notes. I will be releasing these notes over the next 4-5 posts as I find some free time to edit and post them. You can see the entire program here and download the papers freely as open access.

Today, I will just talk about day 0 and the opening of day 1.

Driving to SOSP

Abutalib, a final year PhD student at CMU, had offered to give me a ride to the conference. At Buffalo, I was on his drive to the conference from Pittsburgh, PA to Huntsville, Ontario, Canada. Talib and his labmate/coauthor Michael came to pick me up at 2pm on Sunday. We ate lunch at my house, and left at 3pm. We had 4 hours of driving from Buffalo to Huntsville.  We reached the Canadian border in 30 minutes, there were no lines, and the border check took less than a minute.

After the border, we had 3.5 hours of driving left. Talib had a paper on the conference titled "File Systems Unfit as Distributed Storage Backends: Lessons from 10 Years of Ceph Evolution". (Talib is on the academic job market this year, and he is an excellent candidate for you to hire.) I listened to Talib's presentation, then Talib retired to work more on his presentation. I then moved to the front seat and chatted with Michael for the rest of the drive. It was an interesting chat, and we didn't feel how the time passed.

Michael is a third year PhD student. We talked about CMU PhD course requirements. CMU requires just 6 courses for PhD, as they like the students to focus more on research and not get too distracted with many courses. On the other hand, CMU has a TAship requirement, which is not required in other schools. Regardless of their funding for PhD, the PhD students are required to do a TAship for two semesters. I think this is a good training for becoming faculty.

Michael had taken the distributed systems class, where they had an influential distributed systems paper to read every single day. He had also taken an advanced cloud computing course which covered topics like MapReduce, Spark, Yarn, etc. The course was co-taught by three instructors, who alternated covering certain topics. The course put a big emphasis on "cost", as that is an essential component of the cloud computing model. The students were given limited cloud credits and had to complete the three course projects within this budget. After all, an engineer is one who can do for a dollar what any fool can do for two.

We talked about the big data processing ecosystem. Spark seems to be unrivaled for big data processing. But there is still a gap in distributed machine learning. Tensorflow is not easy to use for distributed machine learning, and Pytorch may be grabbing a good ground there. Michael's PhD research will focus on using efficient compression algorithms for machine learning and DNNs, and briefly chatted about work on those topics.

We talked a lot about blockchains and their value proposition. I think I yakked a lot about Ben-Or, Texel, and decentralized consensus in blockchains.  We talked about TLA+, and its value proposition.

Day 0 evening

We were at the DeerHurst resort, Huntsville Ontario, by 7:30pm. The SOSP registration desk was still open, so we picked our SOSP badges, and walked to the hotel reception to check in. While checking in, I ran into Robbert Van Rennesse, and we talked about his work on Texel consensus for a while.

After I got to my room and drop my bags, I went down to the lobby because there were many SOSP attendees chatting there. It seemed like we had the entire hotel to ourselves, and 500+ geeks would be the main event for the coming three days.

I saw Marcos and Indranil whom I know before, so I joined in their conversation. Mahesh from Facebook was also there. So I had already found  distributed systems folks in the conference. We chatted for more than thirty minutes, standing in the lobby. We talked about Paxos variants. Both Marcos and Mahesh are working with a product group, so we talked about how great engineers enrich projects. We talked about California power outages. We talked about how hard it is to get a paper accepted at SOSP, and how hard it is to receive and process negative reviews, especially bad and unfair ones. We talked about the need for a dedicated distributed *systems* conference.

Day 1 SOSP opening

After breakfast, SOSP'19 kicked off at 8:45am with a short address from the general chairs, Tim Brecht (University of Waterloo) and Carey Williamson (University of Calgary). Then PC Chairs Remzi H. Arpaci-Dusseau (University of Wisconsin) and Yuanyuan Zhou (University of California San Diego) took the stage for brief remarks, thanks, and acknowledgment.

SOSP’19 received a total of 276 paper submissions, reviewed by the program committee (PC) of 55 reviewers. All papers received three reviews in the first round. Based on first round reviews, 154 papers were selected to proceed to the second round, and each then received additional reviews. In total more than 1200 reviews, totaling over 1 million words of feedback. Ultimately the conference accepted papers 38 papers, bringing the acceptance rate to 13%. The best paper awards for the conference were awarded to

This year SOSP organized for the first time artifact evaluation led by Profs. Baris Kasikci and Vijay Chidambaram, and organized by Supreeth Shastri. 23 of the 38 papers were submitted for artifact evaluation. 22 of these earned at least one page, 11 papers earned all badges, and 12 papers had all their results reproduced.

This year there was also a student mentorship program organized by Natacha Crooks and Malte Schwarzkopf. The program matched PhD students to postdoctoral research associates or faculty members and researchers in their research area of interest for meeting at the conference. Of course most PhD students already get mentorship from their advisors, but this program was valuable to show how the community is a welcoming one to the students.

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