Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Compiler research centres

As Mary Hall, David Padua and Keshav Pingali observed in a February 2009 Commun. ACM article:
There are few large compiler research groups anywhere in the world today. At universities, such groups typically consist of a senior researcher and a few students, and their projects tend to be short term, usually only as long as a Ph.D. project.
This is certainly the case in the UK. Imperial's Software Performance Optimisation group is a blueprint of that (OK, with a post-doc sandwiched between the senior researcher and students).  Whilst other research groups in the UK may appear to be larger, compiler researchers typically represent a smaller subset of researchers working on programming languages or computer architecture. For example, in Cambridge the Programming group is part of the Programming, Logic, and Semantics group (and a recent article in the IET magazine suggests that a senior member of the Programming group also belongs to the Computer Architecture group); in Oxford the Programming Tools group is part of the Programming Languages group; in Manchester and Edinburgh compiler researchers work in the Advanced Processor Technologies group and the Compiler and Architecture Design group, respectively. Note that only the Edinburgh group prides themselves as compiler researchers (at least if one judges by the group name). 

In the same Commun. ACM article we read the following recommendation:
...researchers must attempt radical new solutions that are likely to be lengthy and involved. The compiler research community (university and industry) must work together to develop a few large centers where long-term research projects with the support of a stable staff are carried out. Industry and funding agencies must work together to stimulate and create opportunities for the initiation of these centers.
The situation is definitely getting better in the US. In April 2009, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded $16 million to the Platform-Aware Compilation Environment (PACE) project at Rice University, as part of its Architecture Aware Compiler Environment (AACE) programme. In March 2007, Intel and Microsoft announced awarding a combined $20 million grant to the Parallel Computing Laboratory at UC Berkeley and to the Universal Parallel Computing Research Centre at Illinois (with the universities reportedly applying to additional funding of $7 and $8 million, respectively, to match the industry grant). No doubt, these parallel computing centres will spend big on compiler projects (e.g. PACE is explicitly focused on compilers).

What about compiler funding the UK? From what I see (by looking at the number of PhD studentships, post-doctoral fellowships and permanent positions), the UK spending on compiler research seems to have been monotonically increasing over the past couple of years. However, this growth does not have as much support as in the US, so the UK risks losing its competitiveness in this field.