Kenneth P. Birman

2009 Tsutomu Kanai Award Recipient



“For fundamental and practical contributions to distributed computing, fault tolerance, reliability and distributed systems management” 


Kenneth P. Birman
holds the N. Rama Rao Chair Professorship at Cornell University. 


The primary focus of Birman’s work has been on the development of trustworthy distributed computing systems.   Early in his career, he developed the Isis Toolkit (1985), a reliable group communication system that introduced the virtual synchrony model for fault-tolerance.  Isis was widely adopted, and was used at the core of such mission-critical systems as the French Air Traffic Control System, the New York Stock Exchange, and the US Navy AEGIS warship.  The virtual synchrony model was also highly successful, and was adopted by many other projects, eventually becoming a CORBA standard.  Birman’s Horus and Ensemble systems, developed to take group communication a step further, were the basis for the communication layer of IBM’s flagship Websphere product, and for Microsoft’s cluster management platform.   Subsequent work included research on gossip protocols that yielded such systems as the Bimodal Multicast, the Astrolabe platform, and the Gossip Objects platform. 


Among recent projects, the Live Distributed Objects System offers a novel and easily used web mashup technology, offers a way to integrate cloud hosted data sources with peer-to-peer technology using an easily learned drag-and-drop development style.   At a more foundational level, Birman has tackled a number of questions that arise in cloud computing systems, with the goal of reintroducing consistency guarantees in very large-scale, demanding environments.  He has also continued his research on the virtual synchrony model, showing in a recent paper that the model can be combined with elements of the State Machine Replication model to create a new Dynamically Reconfigurable Services model. 


Birman was named as a Fellow of the ACM in 1998, and was awarded the 2009 IEEE TPDS Outstanding Achievement Award.