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Principal Researcher @ Oracle Labs

Aleksandar Prokopec is a principal researcher at Oracle Labs, working on the Graal language infrastructure project. His research is focused around composable, scalable and modular programming language abstractions for large-scale distributed computing, as well as implementation of frameworks, languages and runtimes for distributed programming. Previously, he worked at Google on cloud computing infrastructure and big data analytics for Google Maps. Before that, Aleksandar was a research assistant at the EPFL in Switzerland, where he worked on Scala development under the supervision of prof. Martin Odersky. He received a doctoral degree at EPFL in 2014. Aleksandar is the author of the popular book Learning Concurrent Programming in Scala, which will soon enter its 2nd edition.

Bridging the gap towards high-level distributed computing

Today, there exists a gap between high-level distributed computing frameworks and low-level distributed programming models. On one side of the spectrum, we have high-level frameworks such as Map-Reduce, Spark, distributed file-systems and databases, and peer-to-peer networks. On the other side, we have low-level distributed programming models, such as remote procedure calls (RPCs), and actors, which are the basis for building distributed systems. There does not seem to be a strong middle ground — a set of reusable intermediate components is missing. High-level frameworks are complex systems, built from low-level primitives during countless engineer hours, whose efforts are repeated every time a new distributed system is created.

Since the appearance of the actor model some 30 years ago, this gap between the high-level and the low-level distributed computing did not significantly decrease. While sequential programmers today build their programs from iterators, monads, zippers, generic collection frameworks, parser combinators, I/O libraries, and UI toolkits, distributed systems engineers still think in terms of low-level RPCs and message passing. While sequential programming paradigms realized the importance of structured programming and high-level abstractions long ago, distributed computing has still not moved far from message passing — its own assembly. This underlying cause for this situation is the following: existing low-level distributed programming models expose primitives that do not compose well.

In this talk, I present the recently proposed reactor programming model. I will focus on its main strengths — modularity and composability, and show how to build reusable message protocols and the distributed computing stack from a handful of simple, but powerful programming primitives. I will demonstrate that these primitives serve as powerful foundation for the next generation of distributed computing.