Mastering Complexity at ICT.Open

This week saw another edition of NWO ICT.OPEN, a yearly event that brings scientists from all ICT research disciplines and industries together to learn, share ideas, and network.

My colleague Rosilde Corvino and I from TNO-ESI chaired the Mastering Complexity for Cyber-Physical Systems track. This track was kicked off with a keynote about software architecture for strategic advantage, given by Erik Schepers, Chief Software Architect at Thales. Two presentations followed about using large language models to manage software legacy and task-oriented programming for the Internet of Things, respectively. Approximately 30 participants attended the track, highlighting its relevance and the keen interest in cyber-physical systems. The event also saw a few projects from ESI’s Mastering Complexity (MasCot) academic program, DSE2.0 and Software Restructuring, being present with posters.

Lastly, the poster “Models for Legacy Software Systems,” authored by ESI colleagues Joe Reynolds, Nan Yang, Rosilde Corvino, Anca-Maria Lichiardopol, and Joost van Zwam, won the best poster award at the ICT.Open conference. The work has been prized for its innovation, applicability, and clarity of presentation. Congratulations to the team for this achievement, and kudos to Joe Reynolds for his outstanding presentation, demo, and poster explanation.

Next Tuesday, it is time for the next event, the crown jewel of ESI, the ESI Symposium 2024. It is still possible to register for free. I hope to see you there!

Keynote on Managing Variability and Evolution in High-tech Equipment at FOSD Meeting 2024

I had the distinct honor of opening this year’s Meeting on Feature-Oriented Software Development (FOSD Meeting) with a keynote titled “Managing Variability and Evolution in High-tech Equipment”. FOSD Meeting is a yearly informal meeting to bring together the community of researchers working on feature-oriented software development. This year, the event was hosted by TU/e between April 9 – 12.

The keynote covered complexity trends in the high-tech equipment domain, ESI and its role in the high-tech innovation eco-system, and two examples of how variability and evolution were tackled using model-based methodologies at the level of the software architecture in our projects with Thales. The keynote was appreciated by the organizers of the event and the group of 35 participants, mostly from (German) universities but also from ESI’s international applied research partner DLR.

Reflecting on my experience, I was pleasantly surprised at the broad expertise in this community, which covered modelling, software engineering, and performance and I wished I could have stayed around to enjoy the rest of the event. I am happy to see that the keynote triggered some concrete follow ups that can help us link members of this academic community to research in the high-tech equipment ecosystem.

PhD Defense on Governance of Complex Cyber-infrastructure

Today, I chaired a PhD committee at the University of Amsterdam. The PhD candidate Mostafa Mohajeri Parizi defended his dissertation “An Agent-based Approach to the Governance of Complex Cyber-Infrastructures”. The dissertation explores the impact of digitization on society and the need for engineering approaches to ensure that digital systems comply with regulations. Mostafa did his PhD research in the Complex Cyber-Infrastructure (CCI) group under the supervision of TNO colleague Tom van Engers (Principal Scientist ISP DS). The work centers on the use of computational agents and norms to develop tools and methodologies for governing socio-technical systems. The study introduces ASC2, an agent-based programming framework built on the belief-desire-intention model, alongside a scalable multi-agent system environment. It emphasizes the integration of mainstream software development tools into agent-based programming and enhances transparency and decision-making in agents by incorporating context-dependent preferences. Furthermore, the dissertation proposes a modular architecture for integrating norms into multi-agent systems, allowing for the flexible adoption and reasoning of norms without compromising agent autonomy. This is illustrated through two case studies demonstrating the framework’s application in coordinating agent actions and aligning them with encoded laws. The research highlights the potential of agent and norm models in improving the design and policy-making of digital infrastructures.

Mostafa did a good job presenting and defending his work and the committee were impressed by the breadth of the research. We hope the newly minted Dr. Mohajeri Parizi enjoyed the ceremony and the celebration with his friends and family and wish him all the best of luck in his future career.

Performance Engineering in High-Tech Systems: A Visit to CISTER Research Center

I recently had the opportunity to visit the CISTER Research Center for Real-time and Embedded Computing in Porto. It was a great chance to reconnect with former colleagues from my previous tenure there. During my visit, I was invited give a presentation focusing on the complexity challenges in high-tech equipment and ESI’s vision on model-driven performance engineering in this field. The talk also highlighted the growing use of microservice architectures in cyber-physical systems to address the complexity drivers. I explained that while there are good open source tools for instrumenting applications and gathering telemetry data, such as metrics, logs, and traces, new automated analysis methods are needed to reduce the effort of optimizing, verifying, and diagnosing system performance. In this context, I introduced a framework for telemetry-based performance engineering that can be used to address a number of performance challenges. In particular, I explained how it could be used to check whether the system implementation conforms to a UML specification, both in terms of timing and behavior, and to perform performance prediction.

The presentation, which was attended by a group of approximately 15 staff members and PhD students, was well-received and led to fruitful discussions about the relation between real-time systems research and performance engineering. . The visit concluded wonderfully with a delightful dinner with the institute’s director, Prof. Eduardo Tovar, in Matosinhos.

Automatic Workload Inference Improves Scalability of DSE in Complex Systems

I am happy to announce that the paper “Automated Derivation of Application Workload Models for Design Space Exploration of Industrial Distributed Cyber-Physical Systems” has been accepted for publication at the 7th IEEE International Conference on Industrial Cyber-Physical Systems (ICPS). The paper is first-authored by Faezeh Saadatmand in the context of the DSE2.0 project, a part of the academic research program MasCot, co-funded by TNO-ESI and NWO. Congratulations Faezeh!

The paper addresses challenges with respect to designing their next-generation distributed cyber-physical systems (dCPS). Efficient Design Space Exploration (DSE) techniques are needed to evaluate possible design decisions and their consequences on non-functional aspects of the systems. To enable scalable and efficient DSE of complex dCPS, it is essential to have abstract and coarse-grained models that are both accurate and capable of capturing dynamic application workloads. However, manually creating such models is time-consuming and error-prone, and they need to be continuously updated as the system evolves. This research addresses this need by introducing an automatic method for deriving an application workload model. This model, based on trace analysis, captures computation and communication activities within an application in a timing-agnostic manner. The approach has been validated through a case study on an ASML Twinscan lithography machine, demonstrating high accuracy in capturing real application workloads. Next steps in this research involves combining this model with an automatically inferred hardware platform model to enable DSE exploring different hardware, software, and mapping alternatives.

The Journey from Offline to Online Conformance Checking for Microservice Applications

Ricardo Andrade has successfully defended his master thesis “Real-Time Conformance Checking for Microservice Applications“. This thesis was done in the context of the ArchViews project together with Thales. The academic supervisor was ESI colleague and TU/e professor Johan Lukkien and the daily supervision at ESI was done by myself and Ben Pronk.

The thesis addresses the shift from monolithic architectures to microservice architectures in order to manage the complexities and dependencies that emerge as systems grow and incorporate new features. A significant gap identified in the management of microservice applications is the lack of effective conformance checking techniques that can verify whether the execution of microservices aligns with their specification. To address this, the thesis proposes an innovative solution by developing an online conformance checker specifically designed for microservice applications. The project begins with the creation of an offline conformance checker that evaluates conformance using execution traces and sequence diagrams. The work then progresses to an online conformance checker, significantly improving performance and delivering conformance results within approximately 30 seconds per trace. This rapid response time meets the requirement for swift identification and correction of non-conforming sequences, thereby offering a practical and effective tool for managing microservice applications.

Ricardo presented his work very well using beautifully prepared slides. He confidently answered questions from the audience and the examination committee and left the session with a good grade. Ricardo is now moving on from his studies to start his career at CGI. We wish him the best of luck in his future career.

Jesse Liauw-A-Fong Defends Master’s Thesis on Local Anomaly Detection in Smart Public Transport Vehicles

Yesterday, Jesse Liauw-A-Fong, a student of the Master of Software Engineering program at UvA, defended his thesis Local Anomaly Detection in Smart Public Transport Vehicles. This research was conducted externally at a company called Ximedes. Jessie’s research is addressing the problem of detecting anomalies, such as a loss of cloud connection, in Smart Public Transport Vehicles (SPTV), such as buses, trams, and metros, comprising many complex heterogeneous systems. It emphasizes the importance of local, context-aware anomaly detection due to the dynamic nature of SPTVs and explores the generalization of anomaly detection, particularly addressing performance, normal region, and quality challenges. The research proposes a unified data collection framework comparing agent-based and agent-less methods, advocating for an agent-based approach for its adaptability and integration ease. It also quantitatively evaluates three local anomaly detection algorithms on real data from a specific bus line. We thank Jessie for his contributions to our research and wish him the best of luck in his future career.

MasCot Program: Bridging Academia and Industry for High-Tech Innovation in Bits & Chips Feature

An article about strategic academic programming at TNO-ESI has appeared in Bits & Chips. The MasCot program, a collaboration co-funded by ESI and the Dutch research council NWO, is designed to tackle the increasing complexity of high-tech equipment.  The program addresses the pressing need for advanced engineering methodologies through four projects covering essential topics, such as design space exploration during early system design, scheduling, verification, and restructuring of evolving software. In the article, I explain how the 3-million-euro program facilitates the transition of academic research into practical industrial applications, creating an innovation funnel that spans from academic research through applied research to industrial embedding. The program’s strategic approach not only mitigates the risks associated with high-reward, complex projects but also fosters a symbiotic relationship between academia, industry, and TNO, allowing for a continuous exchange of knowledge, challenges, and innovations.

Master Thesis Shines Light on Hardware Dimensioning for Cyber-Physical Systems

On Wednesday, Marijn Vollaard defended his master thesis “Hardware Dimensioning for Microservice-based Cyber-Physical Systems: A Profiling and Performance Prediction Method” at the University of Amsterdam. This research has been supervised by Ben Pronk and myself as a part of a project with TNO-ESI.

The thesis addresses the problem of determining the number of homogeneous compute nodes needed for a particular variant of a cyber-physical system to meet its timing requirements. This is important in early discussions with customers and bidding processes, since it affects the size and cost of the resulting system. To this end, the thesis proposes a structured hardware dimensioning methodology comprising a profiling method and a performance prediction method. The four novel contributions of the thesis are: 1) A component-based profiling method, 2) a performance prediction method, 3) a structured hardware dimensioning methodology, and 4) validation of the approach, using a case study that represents a prototype of a CPS. Experimental evaluations on the case study show that the predicted performance differs from measurements on the application by at most 20%, which is satisfactory for hardware dimensioning decisions for new product variants.

The defense went well and Marijn confidently presented his story and convincingly answered the questions of the audience. The examination committee, impressed by his work, awarded his thesis a well-deserved grade of 8. As we bid farewell to Marijn, embarking on his next career adventure, we also extend our heartfelt congratulations. He certainly has much to be proud of. We wish him all the best on his travels and in his future pursuits.