Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NSDI 2009, Day One

NSDI is happening this week here in Boston. This years' conference has 32 papers (selected out of about 160 submissions) and there are more than 240 attendees, which is an NSDI record. The topics this year are pretty diverse, including content distribution (which seems to be a euphemism for "P2P"), software-defined radios, botnets, and of course the mandatory session on BFT.

A couple of highlights from my favorite talks today.

TrInc: Small Trusted Hardware for Large Distributed Systems
Dave Levin, University of Maryland; John R. Douceur, Jacob R. Lorch, and Thomas Moscibroda, Microsoft Research

This paper proposes to add a small trusted hardware component (which they implement as a smart card), incorporating a counter and a key, providing provable attestation for state updates performed by a node participating in a distributed system. This can be used to prevent a malicious or selfish node from "equivocating" by sending different messages to different peers. For example, the authors show how this can prevent attacks on BitTorrent where a node lies about what chunks of a file it has received in order to increase its own download capacity.

HashCache: Cache Storage for the Next Billion
Anirudh Badam, Princeton University; KyoungSoo Park, Princeton University and University of Pittsburgh; Vivek S. Pai and Larry L. Peterson, Princeton University

This paper develops a Web cache that uses far less memory and storage than conventional caches. The idea is to provide an effective caching solution for use in developing countries with poor Internet access and little access to high-end hardware. They employ a bunch of clever techniques to reduce the overheads and trade off storage, memory, and performance. To be honest, I never thought that Web caching could be sexy again, but this paper proved me wrong.

Making Byzantine Fault Tolerant Systems Tolerate Byzantine Faults
Allen Clement, Edmund Wong, Lorenzo Alvisi, and Mike Dahlin, The University of Texas at Austin; Mirco Marchetti, The University of Mondena and Reggio Emilia

This paper deals with the "elephant in the room" that most BFT systems don't provide acceptable (or any) performance if some nodes are actually faulty. The authors describe Aardvark, which is designed to provide robust BFT rather than just peak performance in the best case. I like the authors' shift in priorities in developing their system to focus on robustness. Kudos for using "Big MAC Attack" as the title of one of the slides.

The poster and demo session was just afterwards, though being completely beat after a long day I decided to head home.

By the way, why don't conference hotels train their staff not to make a huge racket immediately outside of rooms where presentations are happening? The last three conferences I've been to have been disrupted by noisy hotel staff yelling at each other and moving dishes around outside of the conference hall. You would think they would somehow be aware that they are just next door to a roomful of 300 people trying to listen to a talk.

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