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.


  1. Hmm interesting. I'd never really thought about this.
    There are several UK based companies that do quite a bit of compiler research right? e.g. ClearSpeed.

    As you say, it seems that academic research projects are quite small and short. Perhaps longer projects would be more fruitful, I don't know of any particularly projects that are going.

  2. Hmm, ClearSpeed is almost no more (as of April 2009). There was some compiler research at the company (and I contributed a bit to that), but as with other semiconductor companies it was mostly development.

    Codeplay are doing more compiler research with their Sieve system.

    As for longer projects, I can only point to MilePost which is EU-funded.

  3. i agree with the need to pay more attention to research work in compiler world. i would like to express my point of view as:
    Compilers are at the backbone in IT industry. Without good compilers all dreams like parallel and distributed computing to have efficient computing will never be in their full swing, reason being advancement in architectures will require same level advancements in compiler architecture and design. That’s why to excel in IT business one must excel in the field of languages processing systems as well. Because we would need compilers which are able to get up to mark advantages of these charms of very advanced computer architectures. Hence, there is a good need of paying attention in compiler world.

    Imran Javed
    Assistant Professor
    University of the Punjab, Pakistan