Systems Research Group

This is the website for the Systems Research Group (SRG) at the University of St Andrews. Systems is the largest research area in the School of Computer Science, covering the broad areas of distributed systems, networked systems, sensor systems and data-intensive systems.

The Systems Research Group (SRG) consists of twelve interdisciplinary faculty members, and a large cohort of Research Fellows and PhD students. Our interdisciplinary nature means that we can work on projects which cross multiple areas of systems research, many in collaboration with industry partners. Members of the group have expertise in research areas spanning: data centres, cloud computing, many-core systems, networking, middleware, sensor networking, machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), autonomic computing and software architectures.

We take a very practical approach to research, by building and evaluating real systems, whilst publishing in many of the top-tiered systems research conferences and journals. SRG research is currently funded through the following organisations:

SRG runs a bi-weekly seminar series every other Thursday at 1pm in JC 1.33B during semester time. There are talks from faculty, research fellows, PhD students and visitors. Please check our exciting schedule.

News and Events

The latest Systems Research Group posts from the School of Computer Science blog.

SRG Seminar: “On Engineering Unikernels” by Ward Jaradat

We have explored data coordination techniques that permit distributed systems to be constructed by interconnecting services. In such systems the network latency is often a problem. For example, large data volumes might have to be transmitted across the network if computation cannot be co-located close to data sources. One solution to this problem is the ability to deploy services in appropriate geographical locations and compose them together to create distributed ecosystems. Hence we seek to be able to deploy such services rapidly and dynamically enact and orchestrate them. However, this goal is hindered by the size of the deployments. Currently, virtual machine appliances that host such services on top of monolithic kernels are very large, thus are potentially slow to deploy as they may need to be transmitted across a network.

Our principles led us to take the route of re-engineering the standard software stack to create self-contained applications that are less-bloated and consequently much smaller based on Unikernels. Unikernels are compact library operating systems that enable a single application to be statically linked against a simple kernel that manages the underlying resources presented by a hypervisor. In this talk I will present Stardust – a specialised Unikernel that aims to support the deployment of application services based on the Java programming language.

DLS: Functional Foundations for Operating Systems

Biography: Dr. Anil Madhavapeddy is a University Lecturer at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, and a Fellow of Pembroke College where he is Director of Studies for Computer Science. He has worked in industry (NetApp, Citrix, Intel), academia (Cambridge, Imperial, UCLA) and startups (XenSource, Unikernel Systems, Docker) over the past two decades. At Cambridge, he directs the OCaml Labs research group which delves into the intersection of functional programming and systems, and is a maintainer on many open source projects such as OpenBSD, OCaml, Xen and Docker.

9:30: Introduction by Professor Saleem Bhatti
9:35: Lecture 1
10:35: Break with tea and coffee
11:15: Lecture 2
12:15: Lunch (not provided)
14:00: Lecture 3
15:00: Close by Professor Simon Dobson

Lecture 1: Rebuilding Operating Systems with Functional Principles
The software stacks that we deploy across computing devices in the world are based on shaky foundations. Millions of lines of C code crammed into monolithic operating system kernels, mixed with layers of scheduling logic, wrapped in a hypervisor, and served with a dose of nominal security checking on the side. In this talk, I will describe an alternative approach to constructing reliable, specialised systems with a familiar developer experience. We will use modular functional programming to build several services such as a secure web server that have no reliance on conventional operating systems, and explain how to express their logic in a high level, functional fashion. By the end of it, everyone in the audience should be able to build their own so-called unikernels!

Lecture 2: The First Billion Real Deployments of Unikernels
Unikernels offer a path to a more sane basis for driving applications on hardware, but will they ever be adopted for real? For the past fifteen years, an intrepid group of adventurers have been developing the MirageOS application stack in the OCaml programming language. Along the way, it has been deployed in many unusual industrial situations that I will describe in this talk, starting with the Docker container stack, then moving onto the Xen hypervisor that drives billions of servers worldwide. I will explain the challenges of using functional programming in industry, but also the rewards of seeing successful deployments quietly working in mission-critical areas of systems software.

Lecture 3: Programming the Next Trillion Embedded Devices
The unikernel approach of compiling highly specialised applications from high-level source code is perfectly suited to programming the trillions of embedded devices that are making their way around the world. However, this raises new challenges from a programming language perspective: how can we run on a spectrum of devices from the very tiny (with just kilobytes of RAM) to specialised hardware? I will describe the new frontier of functional metaprogramming (programs which generate more programs) that we are using to compile a single application to many heterogenous devices, and a Git-like model to coordinate across thousands of nodes. I will conclude with by motivating the need for a next-generation operating system to power new exciting applications such as augmented and virtual reality in our situated environments, and remove the need for constant centralised coordination via the Internet.

“Sensing and topology: some ideas by other people, and an early experiment” by Simon Dobson

The core problem in many sensing applications is that we’re trying to
infer high-resolution information from low-resolution observations —
and keep our trust in this information as the sensors degrade. How can
we do this in a principled way? There’s an emerging body of work on
using topology to manage both sensing and analytics, and in this talk I
try to get a handle on how this might work for some of the problems
we’re interested in. I will present an experiment we did to explore
these ideas, which highlights some fascinating problems.