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Communications of the ACM

Practice

Research for Practice: Distributed Consensus and Implications of NVM on Database Management Systems


Research for Practice, illustration

In this installment of Research for Practice, we provide highlights from two critical areas in storage and large-scale services: distributed consensus and non-volatile memory.

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About RFP

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First, how do large-scale distributed systems mediate access to shared resources, coordinate updates to mutable state, and reliably make decisions in the presence of failures? Camille Fournier, a seasoned and experienced distributed-systems builder (and ZooKeeper PMC), has curated a fantastic selection on distributed consensus in practice. The history of consensus echoes many of the goals of RfP: For decades the study and use of consensus protocols were considered notoriously difficult to understand and remained primarily academic concerns. As a result, these protocols were largely ignored by industry. The rise of Internet-scale services and demands for automated solutions to cluster management, failover, and sharding in the 2000s finally led to the widespread practical adoption of these techniques. Adoption proved difficult, however, and the process in turn led to new (and ongoing) research on the subject. The papers in this selection highlight the challenges and the rewards of making the theory of consensus practical—both in theory and in practice.


 

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