Department of Computer Science 

CS 6410: Advanced Systems (Fall 2012)

Tue/Thur 10:10-11:25; 205 Upson Hall

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  Instructor:  Prof. Ken Birman
        (Office hours: Tue/Thur 1:00-2:00pm, 4119B Upson Hall, or by appointment)

Part-Time TAs:  We don't have any full-time TA support for this course, but two PhD students in Ken's research group (Qi Huang and Z Teo) have agreed to help out as needed.
        (Office hours: TBD)

Class Admin: Amy Finch
        (5147 Upson Hall)

Class Meetings: Attendance is required.
        Tue/Thur 10:10-11:25am, 205 Upson Hall

[ Announcements | General Info | Paper Reading | Paper Presentations | Projects ]


August 7:  Ken is accepting suggestions on special topics of interest on which we might focus.

General Information

[ Overview | Prerequisities | Requirements | Grading | Collaboration | Writing a Review | Preparing Presentations ]

Course Overview

This is a graduate-level reading course that covers classic and recent papers in operating systems and distributed systems. Students will:
  • learn about current research perspectives on computer systems, including advanced systems abstractions, principles, and artifacts that have had lasting value,
  • understand attributes of systems research that is likely to have impact,
  • become comfortable navigating the literature in this field,
  • gain experience in thinking critically and analytically about systems research, and
  • acquire the background needed to work on research problems currently under study at Cornell and elsewhere.

CS6410 is thus aimed primarily at the research community.  In contrast, CS5412 (Cloud Computing) offers a more practical, hands-on perspective on the same kinds of material.  MEng students are therefore encouraged to take CS5412 and not CS6410, and PhD students (or undergraduates who plan to pursue a PhD) are encouraged to take CS6410.  Notice that we did not say "computer science" students: CS6410 often includes PhD students from ECE, CAM, IS and other fields.  We also often have undergraduates in the class (typically, seniors who are thinking of pursuing a PhD).  And finally, MEng students aren't turned away.  We simply require that they have backgrounds as strong as those of the PhD students and that they participate in identical ways. 

Course Prerequisities:

Attendees are expected to have mastered the material in CS 3410 (CS 314) or CS 3420 (ECE 3140), and also CS 4410 (CS 414).   If you didn't enjoy CS 4410, you won't have fun in CS 6410.

Cornell PhD students with appropriate background may enroll without special approvals.  Undergraduates and MEng students are required to obtain Professor Birman's explicit permission before enrolling.  Please meet with Professor Birman either prior to the first day of classes, or after class on the first day, to discuss your level of preparation and goals.

Course Requirements
  • Presentations: Each student is expected to prepare at least one presentation and lead a discussion one or more times during the semester (see below). A presentation/discussion will be of papers drawn from the reading list of the course.
  • Participation: All students are expected to participate in class by asking questions of the speakers and participating in the follow-up discussion on the assigned readings.   Every student is expected to attend every class.
  • Readings: All students are required to read papers in advance of the class and submit a review via Course Management System (CMS). Paper reviews succinctly discuss the paper's strengths, weaknesses, and potential improvements or areas of future research (See how to prepare a review below).
  • Project: The project in CS 6410 is an open-ended research project, done in groups of one or two. The project requires an initial proposal, a midterm survey paper, a final report (both written and presented), and reviews of others' projects. More information can be found on the Project page.
Note: Auditors in CS 6410 are not expected to submit a term project. But auditors are expected to lead one or more class sessions, just like the students who are enrolled in the course for credit.

Grading Policy:

  • 40% class presentations, written reviews, in-class participation.
    • 20% Class Presentations. This grade will be based on both the number and quality of presentations you give. Quantity is not a substitute for quality, but failing to do your fair-share of the presentations will impact your grade.
    • 10% Written reviews
    • 10% Participation in class discussion.
  • 50% independent projects.
    • 5% Peer reviews.
    • 5% Initial project proposal.
    • 15% Midterm survey.
    • 25% Final project (written report and demo).
  • 5% Lab Assignments
  • 5% Subjective factors, including regular in-class quizes based on required readings.

Collaboration Policy

You may discuss the questions for each discussion paper with other students, but you may not look at other student's answers. You must write your answer yourself.

To draw a very clear line, you may use any idea from any other person or group in the class or out, provided you clearly state what you have borrowed and from whom. If you do not provide a citation---that is, you turn other people's work in as your own---that is cheating. Anything else is fair game. Of course, we will be grading you on the ideas you have added, but you should always borrow as much as you can as a starting point as there is no point in reinventing the wheel.

Paper Reading

An online syllabus with links to all the papers is available.   Click here and here to find out how to write a review.

Writing Paper Reviews

Paper reviews should be short, concise, and most importantly, critical. They should include:

  • Short paragraph (3-4 sentences) summarizing the paper and discussing any of the following suggest points:
    • What do you feel the main contribution of this paper is?
    • What did you find interesting about this work?
    • What's the essential principle that the paper exploits?
  • Two or three major strength of the paper (typically one sentence for each point)
  • Two or three weakness of the paper (typically one sentence each point)
  • One question or future work direction you think should be followed (optional)

Additionally, we will usually post a question on CMS more than 48 hours before class. The question should be answered in the review as well.

In all, a review is typically 8 to 12 sentences over two to three paragraphs. You would need to write an additional couple of sentences if there is a question to answer.

Paper Presentations

How to Prepare and Lead a Presentation

  • [Sept 4] Class participants should be prepared to select the first round of topics they will lead.
  • [At least 5 class meetings (=2 weeks + 1 meeting) before the scheduled date for your presentation] Meet with the instructor to agree on what ideas to focus on and what papers to cover.
  • [At least 3 class meetings (=1 week + 1 meeting) before the scheduled date for your presentation] Meet with the instructor to go over a draft of your presentation. Prior to that meeting, submit either a set of written (typeset) lecture notes if you are giving a "chalk talk" or a printed copy of slides if you are giving a powerpoint presentation.
  • [At least 2 class meetings before the scheduled date for your presentation] Meet with the instructor
    • for a final review / dry-run of your presentation, and
    • to decide the set of papers that constitute the assigned reading

Don't expect you'll be able to schedule the above meetings at the last minute. Schedules fill up, and the instructor is not infrequently away from Ithaca. Email the instructor a week or so in advance of when you'll want to have the above meetings.

Questions or comments? email

Policy on academic integrity

Ken Birman
Last modified: Tue 7 July 11:17:49 EST 2012