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HP Labs storage research wins USENIX’s 2015 FAST ‘Test of Time’ award


Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist




A 2002 paper authored by current and former HP Labs researchers recently received the coveted ‘Test of Time Award’ from FAST, the Conference on File and Storage Systems sponsored by USENIX, the Advanced Computing Systems Association. It was accepted by five of the six co-authors at the 2015 FAST conference in Santa Clara, California on February 18th.


USENIX ‘Test of Time’ awards recognize research papers that have had “a lasting impact” in their relevant fields and that were presented at a USENIX conference at least 10 years ago.


The HP paper, presented at the very first FAST conference in January, 2002 in Monterey, California and titled “Hippodrome: running circles around storage administration,” offered a novel approach to the challenge of storage system configuration, suggesting how automated iteration could replace what had hitherto been an error-filled and time-consuming manual design process.


“We were already using the parts of this process as separate tools for separate tasks,” recalls co-author Susan Spence, now a Senior Research Engineer in the HP Analytics Lab. “What was different here was the insight, first suggested by our colleague Eric Anderson, that they could be combined in an iterative loop.”


“Prior to this, our group had a history of looking at problems in automating storage management and storage configuration, but the techniques required the user to quantitatively specify detailed requirements about the workloads, like data sizes, request rates and I/O request sizes,” adds Kimberly Keeton, fellow co-author and now a Principal Researcher in HP’s Systems Research Lab. “The goal of this work was to offer users a path to optimized storage design without making them specify so many input parameters. All they needed to tell us now was how much space they needed, and the Hippodrome tool would figure out the rest – even when they were planning to run multiple workloads on a single storage array. ”


The paper’s other authors were Eric Anderson and Alistair Veitch, both now at Google, Michael Hobbs, who now teaches at Deakin University in Australia, and Mustafa Uysal, who today works with VMware.


The paper has been especially influential in demonstrating how to automate storage system configuration effectively, notes Keeton. “There have been a number of other studies, in areas like dependability and in working with large clusters, which have followed up on applying this kind of optimization to storage design,” she reports. The research also informed subsequent HP Labs studies in reliability and recovery in storage systems.


Both Spence and Keeton now work on aspects of data management for The Machine, HP Labs’ major research project that seeks to create a new computer architecture for the era of Big Data and the Internet of Things. But in a world where technology research moves at lightning speed, says Spence, “It’s really nice to have people remind you about papers that you wrote a dozen or more years ago.”


“It’s one thing to win ‘best paper’ at a conference,” Keeton adds. “But for me this feels more special, because you’ve created something that people, even now, are still thinking and talking about.”


Photo courtesy of USENIX

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