Prof. Asaf Cidon Wins Army Research Office Young Investigator Award

Electrical Engineering professor is creating systems that use different types of storage technologies to build faster and cost-effective computing infrastructure

Jan 19 2021 | By Holly Evarts | Photo Credit: Courtesy of Asaf Cidon

Asaf Cidon, assistant professor of electrical engineering with a joint appointment in computer science, recently won an Army Research Office Young Investigator award for his project to create systems that use different types of storage technologies to build faster and cost-effective computing infrastructure. The three-year $120,000 grant, given to outstanding young university faculty members, will support Cidon’s proposal to explore how systems that serve as the backbone of our modern computing infrastructure, such as databases and storage systems, can exploit multiple tiers of storage to achieve faster performance at a lower cost.

In recent years, several promising storage technologies have been developed with the divergent goals of either accelerating the performance or reducing the cost of data storage. In tandem, researchers have been building new databases, storage systems, and file systems that take advantage of either fast or cheap storage, to achieve one of these goals at the expense of the other.

“Current systems are either very fast but expensive or cheap but very slow, so users have had to choose between performance and cost,” says Cidon, who is also a member of the Data Science Institute. “These systems view storage as a homogeneous and monolithic layer.”

In order to get the best of both worlds, systems will need to combine multiple heterogeneous storage technologies concurrently: frequently updated “hot” data will be stored in faster, more expensive storage mediums, while more static “cold” data will be stored in cheaper but slower storage technologies. Cidon’s goal is to enable future, critical computing infrastructure that will transparently and automatically take advantage of a gamut of storage and memory technologies.

His group will first incorporate heterogeneous storage into databases, which are a core system of any computing application in any environment. They plan to design a database that has similar performance to one that runs on expensive low-latency storage technologies, but at a fraction of the cost.

“We think that by designing systems that can exploit this heterogeneity, we can achieve both the latency and throughput of one end of the storage spectrum, while retaining the cost of the other end of the spectrum,” he notes.

With its faster storage and data access impact, Cidon’s proposal could simultaneously significantly reduce the cost, as well as improve the performance of databases, storage caches, and backup systems. It could also speed up a wide variety of use cases, including the army, in which fast data querying is required. From deploying faster and more cost-effective databases in tactical operation centers, which need to issue queries in real-time to respond to developing threats, to enabling orders of magnitude faster data querying for army analysts, whether they are protecting against cyberattacks or modeling the movement of enemy forces.

In addition, the project could have a major impact on the entire database and storage industry, leading to more cost-effective and faster analytics for all of their customers, from the armed services to major cloud providers, as well as traditional enterprises that rely heavily on databases and storage systems.

“With the end of Moore’s law, the software infrastructure will need to be aware and exploit the characteristics of different types of heterogeneous hardware technologies. This is especially true in the case of storage systems, where cost, speed, and reliability are rapidly diverging and presenting fundamental trade-offs for system designers,” adds Cidon, who formerly was Senior Vice President of Email Protection at Barracuda Networks, and is an expert in the design of storage systems, key-value stores, databases, and key-value caches. His research on storage systems has been adopted by several companies, including Facebook, Rubrik, Tibco, and Hortonworks, and his work on security systems is deployed by Barracuda.