Distributed computing is a field of computer science that studies distributed systems. A distributed system is a system whose components are located on different networked computers, which communicate and coordinate their actions by passing messages to one another.^{ [1] } The components interact with one another in order to achieve a common goal. Three significant characteristics of distributed systems are: concurrency of components, lack of a global clock, and independent failure of components.^{ [1] } Examples of distributed systems vary from SOA-based systems to massively multiplayer online games to peer-to-peer applications.
Computer science is the study of processes that interact with data and that can be represented as data in the form of programs. It enables the use of algorithms to manipulate, store, and communicate digital information. A computer scientist studies the theory of computation and the practice of designing software systems.
A computer network is a digital telecommunications network which allows nodes to share resources. In computer networks, computing devices exchange data with each other using connections between nodes. These data links are established over cable media such as wires or optic cables, or wireless media such as Wi-Fi.
In computer science, message passing is a technique for invoking behavior on a computer. The invoking program sends a message to a process and relies on the process and the supporting infrastructure to select and invoke the actual code to run. Message passing differs from conventional programming where a process, subroutine, or function is directly invoked by name. Message passing is key to some models of concurrency and object-oriented programming.
A computer program that runs within a distributed system is called a distributed program (and distributed programming is the process of writing such programs).^{ [2] } There are many different types of implementations for the message passing mechanism, including pure HTTP, RPC-like connectors and message queues.^{ [3] }
A computer program is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task when executed by a computer. A computer requires programs to function.
In distributed computing, a remote procedure call (RPC) is when a computer program causes a procedure (subroutine) to execute in a different address space, which is coded as if it were a normal (local) procedure call, without the programmer explicitly coding the details for the remote interaction. That is, the programmer writes essentially the same code whether the subroutine is local to the executing program, or remote. This is a form of client–server interaction, typically implemented via a request–response message-passing system. In the object-oriented programming paradigm, RPC calls are represented by remote method invocation (RMI). The RPC model implies a level of location transparency, namely that calling procedures is largely the same whether it is local or remote, but usually they are not identical, so local calls can be distinguished from remote calls. Remote calls are usually orders of magnitude slower and less reliable than local calls, so distinguishing them is important.
Message-oriented middleware (MOM) is software or hardware infrastructure supporting sending and receiving messages between distributed systems. MOM allows application modules to be distributed over heterogeneous platforms and reduces the complexity of developing applications that span multiple operating systems and network protocols. The middleware creates a distributed communications layer that insulates the application developer from the details of the various operating systems and network interfaces. APIs that extend across diverse platforms and networks are typically provided by MOM.
Distributed computing also refers to the use of distributed systems to solve computational problems. In distributed computing, a problem is divided into many tasks, each of which is solved by one or more computers,^{ [4] } which communicate with each other via message passing.^{ [5] }
The word parallel in terms such as "parallel system", "distributed programming", and "distributed algorithm" originally referred to computer networks where individual computers were physically distributed within some geographical area.^{ [6] } The terms are nowadays used in a much wider sense, even referring to autonomous processes that run on the same physical computer and interact with each other by message passing.^{ [5] }
A distributed algorithm is an algorithm designed to run on computer hardware constructed from interconnected processors. Distributed algorithms are used in many varied application areas of distributed computing, such as telecommunications, scientific computing, distributed information processing, and real-time process control. Standard problems solved by distributed algorithms include leader election, consensus, distributed search, spanning tree generation, mutual exclusion, and resource allocation.
In computing, a process is the instance of a computer program that is being executed. It contains the program code and its activity. Depending on the operating system (OS), a process may be made up of multiple threads of execution that execute instructions concurrently.
While there is no single definition of a distributed system,^{ [7] } the following defining properties are commonly used as:
In telecommunications networks, a node is either a redistribution point or a communication endpoint. The definition of a node depends on the network and protocol layer referred to. A physical network node is an active electronic device that is attached to a network, and is capable of creating, receiving, or transmitting information over a communications channel. A passive distribution point such as a distribution frame or patch panel is consequently not a node.
A distributed system may have a common goal, such as solving a large computational problem;^{ [10] } the user then perceives the collection of autonomous processors as a unit. Alternatively, each computer may have its own user with individual needs, and the purpose of the distributed system is to coordinate the use of shared resources or provide communication services to the users.^{ [11] }
Other typical properties of distributed systems include the following:
Distributed systems are groups of networked computers, which have the same goal for their work. The terms "concurrent computing", "parallel computing", and "distributed computing" have a lot of overlap, and no clear distinction exists between them.^{ [15] } The same system may be characterized both as "parallel" and "distributed"; the processors in a typical distributed system run concurrently in parallel.^{ [16] } Parallel computing may be seen as a particular tightly coupled form of distributed computing,^{ [17] } and distributed computing may be seen as a loosely coupled form of parallel computing.^{ [7] } Nevertheless, it is possible to roughly classify concurrent systems as "parallel" or "distributed" using the following criteria:
The figure on the right illustrates the difference between distributed and parallel systems. Figure (a) is a schematic view of a typical distributed system; the system is represented as a network topology in which each node is a computer and each line connecting the nodes is a communication link. Figure (b) shows the same distributed system in more detail: each computer has its own local memory, and information can be exchanged only by passing messages from one node to another by using the available communication links. Figure (c) shows a parallel system in which each processor has a direct access to a shared memory.
The situation is further complicated by the traditional uses of the terms parallel and distributed algorithm that do not quite match the above definitions of parallel and distributed systems (see below for more detailed discussion). Nevertheless, as a rule of thumb, high-performance parallel computation in a shared-memory multiprocessor uses parallel algorithms while the coordination of a large-scale distributed system uses distributed algorithms.^{ [20] }
The use of concurrent processes that communicate by message-passing has its roots in operating system architectures studied in the 1960s.^{ [21] } The first widespread distributed systems were local-area networks such as Ethernet, which was invented in the 1970s.^{ [22] }
ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, was introduced in the late 1960s, and ARPANET e-mail was invented in the early 1970s. E-mail became the most successful application of ARPANET,^{ [23] } and it is probably the earliest example of a large-scale distributed application. In addition to ARPANET, and its successor, the Internet, other early worldwide computer networks included Usenet and FidoNet from the 1980s, both of which were used to support distributed discussion systems.^{ [24] }
The study of distributed computing became its own branch of computer science in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The first conference in the field, Symposium on Principles of Distributed Computing (PODC), dates back to 1982, and its counterpart International Symposium on Distributed Computing (DISC) was first held in Ottawa in 1985 as the International Workshop on Distributed Algorithms on Graphs.^{ [25] }
Various hardware and software architectures are used for distributed computing. At a lower level, it is necessary to interconnect multiple CPUs with some sort of network, regardless of whether that network is printed onto a circuit board or made up of loosely coupled devices and cables. At a higher level, it is necessary to interconnect processes running on those CPUs with some sort of communication system.^{ [26] }
Distributed programming typically falls into one of several basic architectures: client–server, three-tier, n-tier, or peer-to-peer; or categories: loose coupling, or tight coupling.^{ [27] }
Another basic aspect of distributed computing architecture is the method of communicating and coordinating work among concurrent processes. Through various message passing protocols, processes may communicate directly with one another, typically in a master/slave relationship. Alternatively, a "database-centric" architecture can enable distributed computing to be done without any form of direct inter-process communication, by utilizing a shared database.^{ [30] }
Reasons for using distributed systems and distributed computing may include:
Examples of distributed systems and applications of distributed computing include the following:^{ [32] }
Many tasks that we would like to automate by using a computer are of question–answer type: we would like to ask a question and the computer should produce an answer. In theoretical computer science, such tasks are called computational problems. Formally, a computational problem consists of instances together with a solution for each instance. Instances are questions that we can ask, and solutions are desired answers to these questions.
Theoretical computer science seeks to understand which computational problems can be solved by using a computer (computability theory) and how efficiently (computational complexity theory). Traditionally, it is said that a problem can be solved by using a computer if we can design an algorithm that produces a correct solution for any given instance. Such an algorithm can be implemented as a computer program that runs on a general-purpose computer: the program reads a problem instance from input, performs some computation, and produces the solution as output. Formalisms such as random access machines or universal Turing machines can be used as abstract models of a sequential general-purpose computer executing such an algorithm.^{ [33] }^{ [34] }
The field of concurrent and distributed computing studies similar questions in the case of either multiple computers, or a computer that executes a network of interacting processes: which computational problems can be solved in such a network and how efficiently? However, it is not at all obvious what is meant by "solving a problem" in the case of a concurrent or distributed system: for example, what is the task of the algorithm designer, and what is the concurrent or distributed equivalent of a sequential general-purpose computer?^{[ citation needed ]}
The discussion below focuses on the case of multiple computers, although many of the issues are the same for concurrent processes running on a single computer.
Three viewpoints are commonly used:
In the case of distributed algorithms, computational problems are typically related to graphs. Often the graph that describes the structure of the computer network is the problem instance. This is illustrated in the following example.^{[ citation needed ]}
Consider the computational problem of finding a coloring of a given graph G. Different fields might take the following approaches:
While the field of parallel algorithms has a different focus than the field of distributed algorithms, there is a lot of interaction between the two fields. For example, the Cole–Vishkin algorithm for graph coloring^{ [39] } was originally presented as a parallel algorithm, but the same technique can also be used directly as a distributed algorithm.
Moreover, a parallel algorithm can be implemented either in a parallel system (using shared memory) or in a distributed system (using message passing).^{ [40] } The traditional boundary between parallel and distributed algorithms (choose a suitable network vs. run in any given network) does not lie in the same place as the boundary between parallel and distributed systems (shared memory vs. message passing).
In parallel algorithms, yet another resource in addition to time and space is the number of computers. Indeed, often there is a trade-off between the running time and the number of computers: the problem can be solved faster if there are more computers running in parallel (see speedup). If a decision problem can be solved in polylogarithmic time by using a polynomial number of processors, then the problem is said to be in the class NC.^{ [41] } The class NC can be defined equally well by using the PRAM formalism or Boolean circuits—PRAM machines can simulate Boolean circuits efficiently and vice versa.^{ [42] }
In the analysis of distributed algorithms, more attention is usually paid on communication operations than computational steps. Perhaps the simplest model of distributed computing is a synchronous system where all nodes operate in a lockstep fashion. This model is commonly known as the LOCAL model. During each communication round, all nodes in parallel (1) receive the latest messages from their neighbours, (2) perform arbitrary local computation, and (3) send new messages to their neighbors. In such systems, a central complexity measure is the number of synchronous communication rounds required to complete the task.^{ [43] }
This complexity measure is closely related to the diameter of the network. Let D be the diameter of the network. On the one hand, any computable problem can be solved trivially in a synchronous distributed system in approximately 2D communication rounds: simply gather all information in one location (D rounds), solve the problem, and inform each node about the solution (D rounds).
On the other hand, if the running time of the algorithm is much smaller than D communication rounds, then the nodes in the network must produce their output without having the possibility to obtain information about distant parts of the network. In other words, the nodes must make globally consistent decisions based on information that is available in their local D-neighbourhood. Many distributed algorithms are known with the running time much smaller than D rounds, and understanding which problems can be solved by such algorithms is one of the central research questions of the field.^{ [44] } Typically an algorithm which solves a problem in polylogarithmic time in the network size is considered efficient in this model.
Another commonly used measure is the total number of bits transmitted in the network (cf. communication complexity).^{ [45] } The features of this concept are typically captured with the CONGEST(B) model, which similarly defined as the LOCAL model but where single messages can only contain B bits.
Traditional computational problems take the perspective that we ask a question, a computer (or a distributed system) processes the question for a while, and then produces an answer and stops. However, there are also problems where we do not want the system to ever stop. Examples of such problems include the dining philosophers problem and other similar mutual exclusion problems. In these problems, the distributed system is supposed to continuously coordinate the use of shared resources so that no conflicts or deadlocks occur.
There are also fundamental challenges that are unique to distributed computing. The first example is challenges that are related to fault-tolerance. Examples of related problems include consensus problems,^{ [46] } Byzantine fault tolerance,^{ [47] } and self-stabilisation.^{ [48] }
A lot of research is also focused on understanding the asynchronous nature of distributed systems:
Coordinator election (or leader election) is the process of designating a single process as the organizer of some task distributed among several computers (nodes). Before the task is begun, all network nodes are either unaware which node will serve as the "coordinator" (or leader) of the task, or unable to communicate with the current coordinator. After a coordinator election algorithm has been run, however, each node throughout the network recognizes a particular, unique node as the task coordinator.^{ [52] }
The network nodes communicate among themselves in order to decide which of them will get into the "coordinator" state. For that, they need some method in order to break the symmetry among them. For example, if each node has unique and comparable identities, then the nodes can compare their identities, and decide that the node with the highest identity is the coordinator.^{ [52] }
The definition of this problem is often attributed to LeLann, who formalized it as a method to create a new token in a token ring network in which the token has been lost.^{ [53] }
Coordinator election algorithms are designed to be economical in terms of total bytes transmitted, and time. The algorithm suggested by Gallager, Humblet, and Spira ^{ [54] } for general undirected graphs has had a strong impact on the design of distributed algorithms in general, and won the Dijkstra Prize for an influential paper in distributed computing.
Many other algorithms were suggested for different kind of network graphs, such as undirected rings, unidirectional rings, complete graphs, grids, directed Euler graphs, and others. A general method that decouples the issue of the graph family from the design of the coordinator election algorithm was suggested by Korach, Kutten, and Moran.^{ [55] }
In order to perform coordination, distributed systems employ the concept of coordinators. The coordinator election problem is to choose a process from among a group of processes on different processors in a distributed system to act as the central coordinator. Several central coordinator election algorithms exist.^{ [56] }
So far the focus has been on designing a distributed system that solves a given problem. A complementary research problem is studying the properties of a given distributed system.^{ [57] }^{ [58] }
The halting problem is an analogous example from the field of centralised computation: we are given a computer program and the task is to decide whether it halts or runs forever. The halting problem is undecidable in the general case, and naturally understanding the behaviour of a computer network is at least as hard as understanding the behaviour of one computer.^{ [59] }
However, there are many interesting special cases that are decidable. In particular, it is possible to reason about the behaviour of a network of finite-state machines. One example is telling whether a given network of interacting (asynchronous and non-deterministic) finite-state machines can reach a deadlock. This problem is PSPACE-complete,^{ [60] } i.e., it is decidable, but it is not likely that there is an efficient (centralised, parallel or distributed) algorithm that solves the problem in the case of large networks.
A minimum spanning tree (MST) or minimum weight spanning tree is a subset of the edges of a connected, edge-weighted undirected graph that connects all the vertices together, without any cycles and with the minimum possible total edge weight. That is, it is a spanning tree whose sum of edge weights is as small as possible. More generally, any edge-weighted undirected graph has a minimum spanning forest, which is a union of the minimum spanning trees for its connected components.
Parallel computing is a type of computation in which many calculations or the execution of processes are carried out simultaneously. Large problems can often be divided into smaller ones, which can then be solved at the same time. There are several different forms of parallel computing: bit-level, instruction-level, data, and task parallelism. Parallelism has long been employed in high-performance computing, but it's gaining broader interest due to the physical constraints preventing frequency scaling. As power consumption by computers has become a concern in recent years, parallel computing has become the dominant paradigm in computer architecture, mainly in the form of multi-core processors.
Computer science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and their implementation and application in computer systems. One well known subject classification system for computer science is the ACM Computing Classification System devised by the Association for Computing Machinery.
In computer science, distributed memory refers to a multiprocessor computer system in which each processor has its own private memory. Computational tasks can only operate on local data, and if remote data is required, the computational task must communicate with one or more remote processors. In contrast, a shared memory multiprocessor offers a single memory space used by all processors. Processors do not have to be aware where data resides, except that there may be performance penalties, and that race conditions are to be avoided.
Theoretical computer science (TCS) is a subset of general computer science and mathematics that focuses on more mathematical topics of computing and includes the theory of computation.
Belief propagation, also known as sum-product message passing, is a message-passing algorithm for performing inference on graphical models, such as Bayesian networks and Markov random fields. It calculates the marginal distribution for each unobserved node, conditional on any observed nodes. Belief propagation is commonly used in artificial intelligence and information theory and has demonstrated empirical success in numerous applications including low-density parity-check codes, turbo codes, free energy approximation, and satisfiability.
In computer science, concurrency refers to the ability of different parts or units of a program, algorithm, or problem to be executed out-of-order or in partial order, without affecting the final outcome. This allows for parallel execution of the concurrent units, which can significantly improve overall speed of the execution in multi-processor and multi-core systems. In more technical terms, concurrency refers to the decomposability property of a program, algorithm, or problem into order-independent or partially-ordered components or units.
In parallel computing, an embarrassingly parallel workload or problem is one where little or no effort is needed to separate the problem into a number of parallel tasks. This is often the case where there is little or no dependency or need for communication between those parallel tasks, or for results between them.
In graph theory, a maximal independent set (MIS) or maximal stable set is an independent set that is not a subset of any other independent set. In other words, there is no vertex outside the independent set that may join it because it is maximal with respect to the independent set property.
Concurrent computing is a form of computing in which several computations are executed during overlapping time periods—concurrently—instead of sequentially. This is a property of a system—this may be an individual program, a computer, or a network—and there is a separate execution point or "thread of control" for each computation ("process"). A concurrent system is one where a computation can advance without waiting for all other computations to complete.
The Dijkstra–Scholten algorithm is an algorithm for detecting termination in a distributed system. The algorithm was proposed by Dijkstra and Scholten in 1980.
A fundamental problem in distributed computing and multi-agent systems is to achieve overall system reliability in the presence of a number of faulty processes. This often requires processes to agree on some data value that is needed during computation. Examples of applications of consensus include whether to commit a transaction to a database, agreeing on the identity of a leader, state machine replication, and atomic broadcasts. The real world applications include clock synchronization, PageRank, opinion formation, smart power grids, state estimation, control of UAVs, load balancing and others.
The distributed minimum spanning tree (MST) problem involves the construction of a minimum spanning tree by a distributed algorithm, in a network where nodes communicate by message passing. It is radically different from the classical sequential problem, although the most basic approach resembles Borůvka's algorithm. One important application of this problem is to find a tree that can be used for broadcasting. In particular, if the cost for a message to pass through an edge in a graph is significant, a MST can minimize the total cost for a source process to communicate with all the other processes in the network.
In distributed computing, leader election is the process of designating a single process as the organizer of some task distributed among several computers (nodes). Before the task is begun, all network nodes are either unaware which node will serve as the "leader" of the task, or unable to communicate with the current coordinator. After a leader election algorithm has been run, however, each node throughout the network recognizes a particular, unique node as the task leader.
In mathematics, the graph partition problem is defined on data represented in the form of a graph G = (V,E), with V vertices and E edges, such that it is possible to partition G into smaller components with specific properties. For instance, a k-way partition divides the vertex set into k smaller components. A good partition is defined as one in which the number of edges running between separated components is small. Uniform graph partition is a type of graph partitioning problem that consists of dividing a graph into components, such that the components are of about the same size and there are few connections between the components. Important applications of graph partitioning include scientific computing, partitioning various stages of a VLSI design circuit and task scheduling in multi-processor systems. Recently, the graph partition problem has gained importance due to its application for clustering and detection of cliques in social, pathological and biological networks. For a survey on recent trends in computational methods and applications see Buluc et al. (2013).
Lateral computing is a lateral thinking approach to solving computing problems. Lateral thinking has been made popular by Edward de Bono. This thinking technique is applied to generate creative ideas and solve problems. Similarly, by applying lateral-computing techniques to a problem, it can become much easier to arrive at a computationally inexpensive, easy to implement, efficient, innovative or unconventional solution.
In computer science, the all nearest smaller values problem is the following task: for each position in a sequence of numbers, search among the previous positions for the last position that contains a smaller value. This problem can be solved efficiently both by parallel and non-parallel algorithms: Berkman, Schieber & Vishkin (1993), who first identified the procedure as a useful subroutine for other parallel programs, developed efficient algorithms to solve it in the Parallel Random Access Machine model; it may also be solved in linear time on a non-parallel computer using a stack-based algorithm. Later researchers have studied algorithms to solve it in other models of parallel computation.
Data-intensive computing is a class of parallel computing applications which use a data parallel approach to process large volumes of data typically terabytes or petabytes in size and typically referred to as big data. Computing applications which devote most of their execution time to computational requirements are deemed compute-intensive, whereas computing applications which require large volumes of data and devote most of their processing time to I/O and manipulation of data are deemed data-intensive.
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