Cloud may soon host your computations: Barbara Liskov

21st January 2010
Cloud may soon  host your computations: Barbara Liskov

Top computer scientist, now in Bangalore says serious number crunching could be next app. for cloud computing.
An IndiaTechOnline special

Need a super computer for some seriously high performance computation task? You may not have to sit around twiddling your thumbs, till your organisation whistles up the million dollars or more that may be required to install one of those “Top 500” HPC platforms in your lab. The day is not far away when such computation-intensive tasks can be accomplished by a pay-by-user model, where common-use supercomputing resources join the ever growing list of applications that are available in what is called the ‘Cloud’ -- shared, Web-based computer services maintained for the benefit multiple users who don’t need to own the infrastructure; only pay for the time they use it.
This is the vision of Barbara Liskov, head of the Programming Methodology Group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a person who has revolutionised computer programming with her path breaking development of the tools that help create complex programme structures.

Speaking to IndiaTechOnline, Thursday, during a brief visit to Bangalore, Prof Liskov, said her current research interests in fault tolerant distributed systems seemed to point at the possibilities that the Cloud might offer large online storage as well as significant computing power. Her research teams are exploring how to built fault-tolerant systems that are immune to that contemporary scourge – hacking -- as well as to arbitrary and unexpected internal errors – known as Byzantine failures. This has logically led her and her students to explore more robust ways of data replication – keeping mirrors of the critical data on ‘ hot standby’ in case the main copy fails.

Prof Turing spoke on “The power of abstraction” to a standing-room-only audience of Bangalore best and brightest young programmers in a day-long conference organised to mark the formal opening the India office of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM),the world’s largest scientific and educational computing society. She is the last person to have been honoured( in June 2009) with the ACM’s A. M. Turing Award, often considered to be the “Nobel Prize” of the computational sciences. The award cites Prof Liskov for her “foundational innovations to designing and building the pervasive computer system designs that power daily life. Her achievements in programming language design have made software more reliable and easier to maintain. They are now the basis of every important programming language since 1975, including Ada, C++, Java, and C#.”
Prof Liskov, was the first U.S. women to be awarded a Ph.D. from a Computer Science department (in 1968 from Stanford University), The topic of her Ph.D. thesis was a computer program to play chess. Liskov developed two programming languages, CLU in the 1970s and Argus in the 1980s.

She is slated to join a panel discussion at Microsoft India’s annual research conference, on Friday, where she will be joined by two other Turing Prize awardees Dr Butler Lampson and Sir Tony Hoare. The Turing award is named for Alan M. Turing, the British mathematician who and who was a key contributor to the Allied cryptanalysis of the German Enigma cipher during World War II. 

Anand Parthasarathy in Bangalore January 21