Celebrating advances in domain-specific languages

VMware is pleased to announce the 2018 recipient of the
early career Systems Research Award:  Tiark
Rompf, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Purdue University.  Tiark is recognized for radically new
approaches to performance- and safety-critical systems, in particular through rethinking
the role and relationship between high-level and low-level languages.  Professor Rompf’s university will receive a
gift of US $100,000 in support of his highly-valued research on programming
languages and compilers.

Professor Rompf’s systems-oriented approach is illustrated well by his
far-ranging explorations of lightweight modular staging (LMS), a platform and
methodology for enabling run-time code generation. LMS is particularly helpful
as a foundation for practical domain-specific languages (DSLs), which have
been an important theme in programming languages for over twenty years.  In principle, DSLs enable subject-matter
experts to write programs that are comprehensible, correct, and efficient; a
great example is SQL, which had enormous impact on the database community.  But designing and implementing a DSL remains
challenging and expensive.  Martin Odersky, the lead behind the Scala
programming language (and also Professor Rompf’s Ph.D. advisor), explains that
“Recently there have been two important breakthroughs in Domain-Specific
Languages.  The first was the notion of
embedded DSLs, which allows the machinery of a higher-level language to be
re-used as the foundation of a DSL.  A second is the idea of staging,
which allows an embedded DSL to be highly efficient through code
generation.  In LMS, Tiark has developed an elegant theory of staging, and
he has realized that idea in ways that are relevant to real-world DSL and
systems builders.”

Kunle Olukotun, an early
collaborator with Tiark and Martin who leads the Stanford Pervasive Parallelism
Lab, says “Our team originally explored Tiark’s work as a way to bring
sophisticated compilation techniques to expressive, user-friendly DSLs.  By
incorporating LMS into the Delite compiler framework, we were able to bridge
the gap between productive languages and high performance, parallel and
heterogeneous hardware.  Now, as we work
to democratize machine learning, we find that LMS-based compilation
frameworks like Delite and Spatial provide a seamless way to target emerging
domain-specific hardware platforms (such as FPGA-accelerated CPUs) from
high-level programs.  LMS gives us
efficiency without compromising expressivity.”

Recent works by Tiark’s group, Flare and LB2, have
explored data processing and query optimization, leading to a compelling
back-end for Spark that achieves orders of magnitude speedups by using LMS to
compile high-level queries into lower-level code.  Also timely are Tiark’s applications of LMS
to machine learning, spanning his early work on OptiML and his recent work on
Lantern, which proposes new directions in differentiable programming to enable
systems that are both expressive (like PyTorch) and performant (like

The VMware Systems Research Award celebrates early-career
faculty within the first five years of their first tenure-track appointment.  Tiark, observed VMware Fellow Pratap
Subrahmanyam, “undertook work in a 
challenging area, pursued it for a number of years, and generated what
is emerging as a fundamental and important idea with significant current impact
and future potential.  That he has done
so in a way that is both principled and practical is what makes him a
role-modeling systems researcher in our eyes”. 
Says Ole Agesen, also a VMware fellow, “This year alone, Tiark had publications
in a remarkable breadth of top-tier academic venues in multiple application
domains (SIGMOD, NIPS), and in a range of systems and theory conferences (OSDI
and POPL); plus his work is being used and explored in several startups and
established industry companies.  These
are impressive indicators of the holistic thinking and broad-ranging impact we
look for when placing this award.”

This year, the selection committee was chaired by Professor
Mike Stonebraker (MIT) and included Ole Agesen (VMware), Professor Edouard
Bugnion (EPFL), Professor Greg Ganger (CMU), Chris Ramming (VMware), Professor
Jennifer Rexford (Princeton), and Pratap Subrahmanyam (VMware).  VMware sees the award as one way to support
and give back to the academic research community, which plays a crucial role in
exploring new technology.

–Chris Ramming, Senior Director, VMware Research &