Brown University Computer Science (BrownCS) alumnus Andy Pavlo PhD ’14 has just won the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Management Of Data (ACM SIGMOD)’s Jim Gray Doctoral Dissertation Award for his recent thesis (“On the Optimization of Partitioned Database Management Systems”). He’s the first BrownCS recipient of the honor, which recognizes excellent research by doctoral candidates in the database field.
Andy summarizes his research by explaining that most databases in current use are predicated on designs from the 1970s where memory was more expensive and transaction speed reflected the slowness of manual data entry. “Today, the entire landscape has changed,” he explains. “DRAM has gotten so cheap that all but the largest front-end databases can fit in main memory. Transactions take milliseconds instead of seconds.”
Working with a team of students from Brown, MIT, and Yale, Andy created H-Store, an experimental, distributed main memory database management system that was later commercialized as VoltDB. “With H-Store,” explains BrownCS professor Stan Zdonik, Pavlo’s thesis advisor, “Andy took main memory databases and pushed them to the limit, thereby achieving a very high transaction processing rate. From a practical standpoint, the increase in processing speed means you can achieve the same goals using less hardware, and less hardware means lower operational costs.”
“It also means different hardware,” Andy adds. “Instead of requiring expensive servers, a system like H-Store runs on commodity hardware. There can be huge cost savings.”
It’s these savings alongside revolutionary speed increases while maintaining data integrity that make Pavlo’s work so remarkable. “In the data processing world today,” Stan explains, “increases in throughput have often occurred at the cost of transactional soundness. Andy proved that you can maintain correctness without sacrificing performance. As e-commerce continues to grow and transaction rates increase, this becomes more and more valuable.”
This value is already being realized by VoltDB’s clients, whose transaction processing needs include Shopzilla’s network of 40 million users, the Bursa Malaysia exchange, and even the Canadian Idol television show. Despite this success, Andy was surprised by news of the award: “I don’t know what to say! I’m quite pleased. I didn’t expect this.” He immediately credits Zdonik, saying, “Stan stood by me and supported me throughout. I really enjoyed my time at Brown, in part because he was the perfect advisor, just phenomenal.”
“Andy and I get along on so many levels,” Stan says. “I’m proud as can be at his achievements, and the very fact that he was hired at Carnegie Mellon so quickly speaks to his talent. He’s clearly a rising star.”