Computer scientist wins awards for cloud computing

This has been a banner year for Marin Litoiu. The computer scientist has won two major awards and just received a $500,000 grant to expand his research at York.

Litoiu has won awards before, but these particular ones stem from his pioneering work in cloud computing, the next big evolution in computing technology. “It’s one of the hot topics in computing these days,” he says. Since cloud computing surfaced as a brilliant idea in 2007, he’s led much of the exploration on this new frontier.

Marin LitoiuRight: Marin Litoiu

Cloud computing will spell the end of desktop computers and institutional servers in five to 10 years, predicts Litoiu. Instead, hardware functions such as storage, memory and processing, and office and enterprise software will be provided and managed automatically from remote servers via the Internet (or “cloud”).

Through the Internet, off-site service providers will automatically update software, provide security and guarantee uninterrupted service. Software as a Service, as it’s called, will be cheaper, more convenient and more reliable, says Litoiu.

He compares it to the evolution of electricity delivery. In the early days, companies and institutions used their own generators to supply power. Now we all plug into a remote continental grid.

At York, a few cluster groups, including his own, already operate on clouds. Facebook and Google run on cloud computing systems, though they’re not completely automated, he says. Banks don’t yet, but “it’s just a matter of time before everything is run on virtual systems.”

Litoiu started his career as a computer science professor in Romania. He immigrated to Canada in 1996 and started a second PhD, this one in systems engineering. Within a year, IBM recruited him as a senior researcher at its Centre for Advanced Studies, where he led more than 30 research projects with academics and partners across the globe.

In 2007, when the idea of cloud computing began percolating in labs around the world, IBM created the Centre of Excellence for Research in Adaptive Systems (CERAS) and appointed him director. “We were among the first in the world to create a centre to look at this very new concept of cloud computing,” says Litoiu.

Even after his return to academia in 2008, when he joined York’s School of Information Technology, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Litoiu continues to collaborate with IBM on developing computing tools and infrastructure. “I’m a strong believer in collaborating with industry because it gives students industrial experience and a chance to apply their skills to real problems. I want their theses to be relevant.”

This year, IBM named him CAS (Centre for Advanced Studies) Faculty Fellow of the Year. The award recognizes Litoiu’s leadership in cloud computing research, research that benefits IBM and industry at large, and Litoiu’s continuing efforts to share his research and knowledge with IBM developers.

Left: Marin Litoiu (left) accepts Faculty Fellow of the Year award from IBM’s Bart Vashaw

Litoiu specializes in adaptive computing systems – in computers that take care of themselves. In naming him Faculty Fellow of the Year, IBM cited two of his collaborative research projects. One was “Real-time monitoring and simulations of business processes”, which aimed to pinpoint then shorten delays in automated functions, such as those used in finance and human resources applications. The other was developing a business-driven cloud optimization architecture, which resulted in several prototypes and papers. One paper won the Best Paper Award at the 2010 Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on Applied Computing in Switzerland in March.

In 2009, Litoiu also won the IBM Project of the Year Award for building a two-layered cloud computing model for desktop virtualization: the first layer would provide storage and raw computation; the second, services such as software management (see YFile Dec. 18, 2008).

“These awards validate my assumption that the work we do is meaningful and has an impact not only on the academic community but also on industry, on one of the biggest players in the world in computing,” says Litoiu, of IBM. “The other important thing is that students involved in the research are directly or indirectly exposed to the industry and industrial technology and that their research is rewarded as well.”

At York, Litoiu leads a research team of 12 post-doc and graduate students. Soon they will be working in a new lab dedicated to cloud computing research. The Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada has just granted him $234,000, and IBM has made up the difference for a total of $500,000 to start a new project in cloud computing.

“We live in a pretty exciting world,” says Litoiu. “There are a lot of things to be done in computing. We’re not even halfway through this computer revolution.”

By Martha Tancock, YFile contributing writer