COMP 645 - Advanced Topics in Distributed Systems

Instructor: Ang Chen
Zoom: Disseminated via email
Lectures: Wednesdays 2:45-4:15pm
Office hours: By appointment

Course description

Distributed systems are behind many important services that we use every day, such as online banking, social media, and video conferencing. The design and implementation of these systems need to carefully consider a range of metrics: scalability, security, privacy, and many others. This graduate seminar will cover some of the recent advances in this area. We will read research papers from top conferences in systems, networking, and security, and we will look at some of the more recent systems that have been developed by companies like Google or Facebook.


Some familiarity with systems and networking topics is preferred.


This course will include paper readings, discussions, and, optionally, a research project. In each class, we will read two papers and write reviews on one of them. All students are required to read both papers, but they can choose any paper to write a review on. The reviews are due one day before the class, and they should be written in a review form that I will provide. We will have two presenters per week, one on each paper read. After each presentation, we will form two groups, one arguing for the paper and another against, and hold a discussion session.

Students also have the option of doing a research project (for three credits), and they can do so either individually, or in teams of two. Participants are free to propose their own project ideas (as long as they are related to the subject of this course), or brainstorm with me on possible topics. Each team should prepare a six-page paper in the style of a workshop submission at the end of the semester.

Every student will also give a final presentation in the last class of the semester on a potential project idea that, once fully developed, could be an interesting contribution to the distributed systems community. For students that choose to do a research project, this can simply be the project they have been doing. Students who choose not to do a course project are still required to give a final presentation on a relevant topic.

The papers will be sent via email to registered students.


I will provide a summary form for you to write the summaries in. The summaries need not be long, but they need to answer the following questions:
  1. What is the problem that the paper addresses?
  2. Is this an important problem? Why?
  3. How does the paper solve the problem? What are its key contributions?
  4. What are strengths and weaknesses of the paper? (Name at least two of each)
  5. What are possible next steps?
Please submit you summary via email (in plain text) to me at least one day before class.


For students who are taking COMP 645 as a one-credit course, your grade will be based on the paper summaries you submit (40%), your participation in class discussions (40%), and your final presentation (20%). For students who are taking the course for three credits, your grade will be based on the paper summaries (25%), your participation in class discussions (25%), your final presentation (15%) and your term project (35%).


Students with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations in this course are encouraged to contact me and Disability Support Services in the Allen Center, Room 111.

Some useful materials

Date Paper #1 Paper #2 Supplemental
Jan 27 (Introdution) You and Your Research Technology and Courage
Apr. 28 (WiP session)
Five-minute WiP talks about the term project