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Computer science Ph.D. student Vikram Narayanan was recently nominated as an IBM Ph.D. Fellowship recipient and as one of the two finalists in the systems area for a Facebook Ph.D. fellowship. “It’s a great honor to receive this award from IBM and be one of the 46 Facebook finalists,” says Vikram who is a fifth-year Ph.D. student at UC Irvine. Vikram works on developing operating systems that provide new security and performance guarantees in the age of datacenter computing, heterogeneous hardware and targeted security attacks. This year, he became one of the 16 recipients selected by IBM from hundreds of applications from 183 universities in 32 countries. As noted in the IBM Fellowship announcement, the award recipients demonstrated academic excellence and provided innovative, exceptional research proposals.

“In my proposal, I suggested developing a new datacenter operating system aimed at providing first-class support for heterogeneous hardware,” says Vikram. “Today, we still use systems that are centered around general-purpose CPUs, yet we envision that the next generation of both commodity and datacenter machines will be heterogeneous. Instead of a single general CPU, they will rely on a broad spectrum of hardware execution units, ranging from specialized cores to near-memory, near-storage, and near-network accelerators; programmable hardware like FPGAs; and even specialized application-specific integrated circuits like Google’s Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) that can accelerate common machine learning tasks.”

In his work, Vikram aims to utilize the RedLeaf operating system that he helped to develop from scratch in Rust with his adviser, Assistant Professor Anton Burtsev, and other members of the Mars Research Group in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). He plans to give a talk at IBM presenting his initial ideas on the architecture of RedLeaf and how its unique properties can be used in heterogeneous environments.

“RedLeaf explores novel language-based isolation mechanisms that can provide secure execution of third-party applications in near-memory and near-storage environments without traditional hardware isolation mechanisms,” he says. “I am excited to collaborate with IBM as this is a chance to get access to cutting-edge hardware and the most innovative datacenter architectures.”

Support from IBM fits well with Vikram’s long-term goal of pursuing a research career in academia or industry. “I would like to continue working in the area of operating systems,” he says. “Recent hardware and language innovations allow us to change how applications interact with hardware and how they achieve peak performance at datacenter scale as well as to provide reliability and security guarantees that were not previously possible.”

— Shani Murray