Class Information

Staff | Course Objectives and Scope | Course Prerequisites | Textbook | Lectures | Exams | Dishonesty |

Lorenzo Alvisi
Office: ACES 6.244
Phone: 471-9792
Office Hours: M: 18:00-20:00
Teaching Assistant
Fangkai Yang
Office Hours: F: 16:00-17:00 in MAI 2004

Course Objectives and Scope

The objective of this course is to introduce you to the key ideas that have shaped distrubuted computingand are likely to do so in the future; the ambition of this course is to get you as excited about them as I am. The thing about distributed computing that really grabbed me when I first became exposed to it was how its tremendous practical impact was based on beauiful, elegant, theoretical foundations. Because of asynchrony, partial failures, network partitions and concurrency (all issues you'll be an expert on by the end of this course) it is virtually impossible to hack a distributed system into submission: getting it right means being able to provethings about it. This course strives to mirror the multi-faceted nature of the subject it covers. Classes focuses on fundamentals: We will cover problems, models, algorithms, and impossibility results. But to keep ourselves honest, we will integrate the theoretical discussions with substantial projects that will allow to apply some of the concepts discussed in class.
Topics will include the majority (we are going to shoot for all and see what happens) of the following:

Course Prerequisites

You should have a good undergraduate background in Operating Systems and be willing to participate in class. You should also be comfortable about developing proofs, as many of the homework problems will require you to develop protocols and prove them correct. For instance, you should have no problems about how to use induction.
The course programming assignments require you to either be familiar, or learn as you go, the rudiments of network programming. You are going to be free to program in whatever programming language Fangkai, your TA, allows you to use.


There is no required textbook for this class. You will be able to integrate your class notes with pointers to papers relevant to the material discussed in class, which I will post on the class web site.

If you want to purchase a book, I recommend one of the following:

Other books that we may occasionally refer to or that you may want to browse include: The material presented in lecture be integrated with articles that will be available from the class website.


3:30-5:00 pm Tuesday and Thursday, in GAR 0.120

Notable dates in the schedule

A note about email

While the TA is going to be available for questions by email, I would like to discourage you from contacting me by email with substantive technical questions; instead, I would like to encourage you to come see me in person during office hours, asking for an appointment outside of them if necessary, to discuss questions you may have about the material. There are two reasons for why I strongly discourage you from having a technical conversation by email: 1) DOS defense. As you know, a one-line email may require several pages of explanations back: a perfect Denial of Service attack! The problem is that the attacker (you :-) ) can at very low cost for himself cause the server (me) to perform an unbounded amount of work. A strategy to counter denial of service is to structure protocols so that a potential attacker must perform approximately the same amount of work as the server: if the question is important enough to require 30 minutes of my time, then it should justify at least 30 minutes of yours. 2) It may sound cheesy, but I want to get to know you, and you visiting my office is the best way for me to accomplish this.


It is important for you to realize what grades in this class reflect and what they don't reflect. All we can grade you on is how well you demonstrate that you know the material this semester. We can't grade you on how much of a success you'll be after graduation, how smart/creative/persistent/self-motivated you are, or even how well you'll be able to apply the material in the future. And after all, it is what you do in the future, not what you do this semester, that's really important.

That said grades will be determined as follows:

Exams (2)


Homework (3)


Projects (2)


Class attendance (or lack thereof) does not directly reflect into credit: however, it is my experience that students who don't attend class tend not to do well. "Duh" you might say- but again, coming to class is truly critical for your success in this class, especially considering that, unlike most undergraudate classes, this class does not follow a textbook.


The midterm will take place in class on March 10. The final will take place on May 17, from 2 to 5 PM.

If you have a conflict with these dates, please inform the instructor by September 3rd. After this date, conflicts will be considered if they are caused by either:

  1. Illness, which has to be documented by a doctor and approved by the university.
  2. Death in the immediate family.


In some courses, the TAs and instructor have to spend a lot of time dealing with re-grading appeals, time that would be better spent helping students learn the material. Absolutely come to us if we make an arithmetic error, but realize that a few points here and there are extremely unlikely to make any difference in your final grade. If you believe that we assigned too little credit for your work, you may submit your work for a re-grade under the following restrictions. (1) All re-grade requests must be submitted with a clear, written statement that explains why you believe the original grade was incorrect. (2) All requests for re-grades must be submitted within 1 calendar week of when the graded work is returned. (3) We will re-grade the entire exam, problem set, or project assignment, and if we were overly generous we will deduct points. Thus, you grade can go up or down on a re-grade.

Late policy. No extensions will be given for completing the homework or the programming projects, except that students will be allowed 6 flexible slip days for the projects and homework during the semester. A student may divide slip days across projects in any way he or she wishes to extend deadlines for the projects (or a homework) except for projects or homework due at end of the semester. To help the TA track your slip-day status, the top of your project README file (or your homework) should include the line:

Please not that: Slip days will be tracked at the granularity of a day; if an assignment is 1 minute late, it is one day late: this is not to be draconian, but to show some respect for your TA. If two project partners have different numbers of slip days remaining on their accounts, the slip days account for the team is the min of the partners' slip day balances. Project slip days may not be used for homework and vice versa. Exemptions of the above rules will be allowed in two cases:
  • Illness, which has to be documented by a doctor and approved by the university.
  • Death in the immediate family.
  • Code of Conduct

    The UTCS Code of Conduct applies to this class: I urge you to read it. It discusses dos and don'ts for a productive and enjoyable semester of learning together. It also outlines the expectations that the code of academic honesty puts on you, and the consequences of violations. In particular, you should be aware that anyone who is caught cheating will, unless circumstances demand even stricter sanctions, receive an F in this class.

    This page is maintained by Lorenzo Alvisi. Last updated January 18, 2011