University of Malta

Study-Unit Description
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TITLE Research Topics in System Software

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course


DEPARTMENT Computer Science

DESCRIPTION This study-unit exposes students to current relevant research in system software and should serve to provide them with an awareness of the context in which they will eventually produce a dissertation.

Students will be provided with a seminal seed paper in the topic and then guided in systematically exploring a particular area within system software.

Topics of interest will include but are not limited to:

- Distributed systems and algorithms (time, consensus, etc.);
- Operating system architecture;
- Virtualisation techniques and cloud computing;
- Run-time support for programming languages;
- Concurrent and parallel systems;
- High performance graphics;
- System security.

At the beginning of the semester, a seminar will be held on:

- The scientific method (how to identify a research problem, researching and determining relevant body of literature, implement a solution, evaluating the solution in a scientific manner);
- How to read papers in an efficient and thorough manner;
- How to write scientific documents (such as proposals, literature reviews, and dissertations),
- How to present scientific research.

While the main aim of the seminar is to help students prepare the deliverables of this study unit, it will also provide solid background to tackle their final dissertation.

To assist students with their reading, regular meetings are held with the lecturer to discuss the progress and any problems encountered. Once the student has read sufficiently, he or she is expected to draw up a report which reviews the texts under consideration. The review is expected to offer a mature discussion, comparing and contrasting the works within a sensible framework.

Study-unit Aims:

The aim of this study-unit is to expose the students to state of the art research papers in the area of system software, help them organise their reading and research efforts whilst also giving them the opportunity to write a literature review and present their findings in a seminar. This will give the students invaluable background in the topic of system software while also giving them the opportunity of hands on research under close guidance from the lecturer.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit:

- Given one of the research topics covered in the course, the student will be able to demonstrate understanding of the history of the topic, its practical applications, the current state-of-the-art and future research directions;
- Given a practical problem in system software, the student will be able to point out and discuss current state-of-the-art research topics which could contribute to the solution of that problem.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Discuss and critically analyse the motivation, techniques and results in current system software research, with specialisations in high performance computing, security and graphics;
- Given a seed paper, use it to explore a subject area in depth within a particular context.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

The following are a few sample papers/articles, but these will be updated regularly:

- Gilbert, S. and Lynch, N., “Brewer's conjecture and the feasibility of consistent, available, partition-tolerant web services.” ACM SIGACT News, Volume 33 Issue 2 (2002), pg. 51-59.
- Brewer, E., “CAP twelve years later: How the "rules" have changed”, IEEE Explore, Volume 45, Issue 2 (2012), pg. 23-29.
- Lamport, L. (1978). "Time, clocks, and the ordering of events in a distributed system". Communications of the ACM 21 (7): 558–565.
- Lamport, L. (May 1998). "The Part-Time Parliament." ACM Transactions on Computer Systems 16 (2): 133–169.
- Lamport, L.. "Paxos made simple." ACM Sigact News 32.4 (2001): 18-25.
- Ongaro, D., AND Ousterhout, J. "In search of an understandable consensus algorithm." In Proc ATC’14, USENIX Annual Technical Conference (2014), USENIX.
- Stoica, I.; Morris, R.; Karger, D.; Kaashoek, M. F.; Balakrishnan, H. (2001). "Chord: A scalable peer-to-peer lookup service for internet applications." ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review 31 (4): 149.
- Lloyd, Wyatt, et al. "Don't settle for eventual: scalable causal consistency for wide-area storage with COPS." Proceedings of the Twenty-Third ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles. ACM, 2011.
- Barham, Paul, et al. "Xen and the art of virtualization." ACM SIGOPS Operating Systems Review 37.5 (2003): 164-177.
- Clark, Christopher, et al. "Live migration of virtual machines." Proceedings of the 2nd conference on Symposium on Networked Systems Design & Implementation-Volume 2. USENIX Association, 2005.
- Kajiya, James T. "The rendering equation." ACM Siggraph Computer Graphics. Vol. 20. No. 4. ACM, 1986.
- Wald, Ingo, et al. "Realtime ray tracing and its use for interactive global illumination." Eurographics State of the Art Reports 1.3 (2003): 5.
- Kaplanyan, Anton, and Carsten Dachsbacher. "Cascaded light propagation volumes for real-time indirect illumination." Proceedings of the 2010 ACM SIGGRAPH symposium on Interactive 3D Graphics and Games. ACM, 2010.
- Bugeja, Keith, et al. "Collaborative High-fidelity Rendering over Peer-to-peer Networks." Eurographics Symposium on Parallel Graphics and Visualization. Eurographics, 2014.
- IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing.
- Proceedings of the 'Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defenses', and 'Detection of Intrusions and Malware & Vulnerability Assessment' conferences published in Springer's LNCS series.
- Proceedings of the 'USENIX Security' symposium published online at
- Von Behren, Rob, et al. "Capriccio: scalable threads for internet services." ACM SIGOPS Operating Systems Review. Vol. 37. No. 5. ACM, 2003.
- Dunkels, Adam, et al. "Protothreads: simplifying event-driven programming of memory-constrained embedded systems." Proceedings of the 4th international conference on Embedded networked sensor systems. Acm, 2006.
- Shi, Yunhe, et al. "Virtual machine showdown: Stack versus registers." ACM Transactions on Architecture and Code Optimization (TACO) 4.4 (2008): 2.
- Lattner, Chris, and Vikram Adve. "LLVM: A compilation framework for lifelong program analysis & transformation." Code Generation and Optimization, 2004. CGO 2004. International Symposium on. IEEE, 2004.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture, Independent Study, Project and Seminar

Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Oral Examination (1 Hour) Yes 20%
Project Yes 80%


The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.
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