CERES Center to create new foundations for unstoppable computing

A group of more than 50 computer scientists and engineers from the University of Chicago and industry gathered Jan. 29 at Harper Court in Hyde Park for a research summit to launch the new CERES Center for Unstoppable Computing.

The term “unstoppable computing” refers to the ambition to cure the all-too-common unreliability of computers and computation, said Andrew Chien, CERES director and the William Eckhardt Distinguished Service Professor in Computer Science. Examples of shortcomings include waste of cell phone battery power, drops of connectivity and crashes of cloud services.

“We all use computing services and devices because the functionality is so great, and they have improved our lives, science and the economy in numerous ways,” Chien said. “But computing has sacrificed reliability for flashy new capabilities. Our vision is to create new foundations for computing to make it unstoppable, to eliminate these types of problems.”

Doing so, he said, will require building a foundation of new principles and technologies for computing systems. CERES will be dedicated to the vision of unstoppable computing—computing that is powerful, durable and efficient. Activities will span cloud software, storage, networking, programming systems, computer architecture, high-performance and security.

“The growing strength of our computer science department will lead to an expanding impact not only on campus and the city, but throughout the world,” said Edward “Rocky” Kolb, dean of the Physical Sciences Division and the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics. “Engagement and alliances with industrial and technological leaders is essential to creating this impact, and the dynamic community created by CERES will facilitate the partnerships that will lead to extraordinary insight and research.”

CERES’s initial partners are Huawei, a leading information and communications technology company; Argonne National Laboratory; and NetApp, a leading data storage company.

“At launch we are starting with a small number of partners in order to build strong, deep relationships, and we’re going to scale up over time,” Chien said. Working from a strategic perspective, they will create collaborative research projects that attack seminal problems with broad, practical relevance.

“We’re excited to be a leading CERES partner, and anticipate significant technical innovations will come from our partnership that are relevant to Argonne’s long-term research directions in high-performance computing, large-scale data analysis and future computer architecture,” said Rick Stevens, Argonne’s associate director for computing, environment and life sciences and professor in computer science. “We are looking forward to working with CERES leadership and collaborating partners for years to come.”

“NetApp’s interest in CERES is due to the caliber of the faculty members and their focus on solving challenging technical problems that are important for the future of computing and our society, including in the areas of security in the cloud, software reliability and energy efficiency,” said Mark Bregman, NetApp’s senior vice president and chief technology officer.

The CERES center takes its name from the Roman goddess of agriculture. “The notion is that before humans had agriculture, food supplies were unreliable and catch as catch can,” Chien said. “Ad hoc gathering failed, and people went hungry.” CERES aims to do for computing what agriculture did for food production.

Graduate students are at the center of the CERES partnership, working on research projects at the University during the academic year and shifting to the corporate research labs over the summer as interns. “Students are the connectors; they can serve as the cross-pollinators between the University and industry,” Chien said.

CERES includes a dozen UChicago faculty members drawn from the Department of Computer Science as well as other areas, such as the Biological Sciences Division. The Seymour Goodman Foundation provided the CERES center’s initial funding.