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MEXICO Research team

Activity reports

Scientific Objectives

Introduction.

In the increasingly networked world, reliability of applications becomes ever more critical as the number of users of, e.g., communication systems, web services, transportation etc., grows steadily. Management of networked systems, in a very general sense of the term, therefore is a crucial task, but also a difficult one.

MExICo strives to take advantage of distribution by orchestrating cooperation between different agents that observe local subsystems, and interact in a localized fashion.

The need for applying formal methods in the analysis and management of complex systems has long been recognized. It is with much less unanimity that the scientific community embraces methods based on asynchronous and distributed models. Centralized and sequential modeling still prevails.

However, we observe that crucial applications have increasing numbers of users, that networks providing services grow fast both in the number of participants and the physical size and degree of spatial distribution. Moreover, traditional isolated and proprietary software products for local systems are no longer typical for emerging applications.

In contrast to traditional centralized and sequential machinery for which purely functional specifications are efficient, we have to account for applications being provided from diverse and non-coordinated sources. Their distribution (e.g. over the Web) must change the way we verify and manage them. In particular, one cannot ignore the impact of quantitative features such as delays or failure likelihoods on the functionalities of composite services in distributed systems.

We thus identify three main characteristics of complex distributed systems that constitute research challenges:

Concurrency of behavior;

Interaction of diverse and semi-transparent components; and

management of Quantitative aspects of behavior.

Concurrency

The increasing size and the networked nature of communication systems, controls, distributed services, etc. confront us with an ever higher degree of parallelism between local processes. This field of application for our work includes telecommunication systems and composite web services. The challenge is to provide sound theoretical foundations and efficient algorithms for management of such systems, ranging from controller synthesis and fault diagnosis to integration and adaptation. While these tasks have received considerable attention in the sequential setting, managing non-sequential behavior requires profound modifications for existing approaches, and often the development of new approaches altogether. We see concurrency in distributed systems as an opportunity rather than a nuisance. Our goal is to exploit asynchronicity and distribution as an advantage. Clever use of adequate models, in particular partial order semantics (ranging from Mazurkiewicz traces to event structures to MSCs) actually helps in practice. In fact, the partial order vision allows us to make causal precedence relations explicit, and to perform diagnosis and test for the dependency between events. This is a conceptual advantage that interleaving-based approaches cannot match. The two key features of our work will be (i) the exploitation of concurrency by using asynchronous models with partial order semantics, and (ii) distribution of the agents performing management tasks.

Interaction

Systems and services exhibit non-trivial interaction between specialized and heterogeneous components. A coordinated interplay of several components is required; this is challenging since each of them has only a limited, partial view of the system's configuration. We refer to this problem as distributed synthesis or distributed control. An aggravating factor is that the structure of a component might be semi-transparent, which requires a form of grey box management.

Quantitative Features

Besides the logical functionalities of programs, the quantitative aspects of component behavior and interaction play an increasingly important role.

Real-time properties cannot be neglected even if time is not an explicit functional issue, since transmission delays, parallelism, etc, can lead to time-outs striking, and thus change even the logical course of processes. Again, this phenomenon arises in telecommunications and web services, but also in transport systems.

In the same contexts, probabilities need to be taken into account, for many diverse reasons such as unpredictable functionalities, or because the outcome of a computation may be governed by race conditions.

Last but not least, constraints on cost cannot be ignored, be it in terms of money or any other limited resource, such as memory space or available CPU time.

Evolution and Perspectives

Since the creation of MExICo, the weight of quantitative aspects in all parts of our activities has grown, be it in terms of the models considered (weighted automata and logics), be it in transforming verification or diagnosis verdict into probabilistic statements (probabilistic diagnosis, statistical model checking), or within the recently started SystemX cooperation on supervision in multi-modal transport systems. This trend is certain to continue over the next couple of years, along with the growing importance of diagnosis and control issues.

In another development, the theory and use of partial order semantics has gained momentum in the past four years, and we intend to further strengthen our efforts and contacts in this domain to further develop and apply partial-order based deduction methods.

When no complete model of the underlying dynamic system is available, the analysis of logs may allow to reconstruct such a model, or at least to infer some properties of interest; this activity, which has emerged over the past 10 years on the international level, is referred to as process mining. In this emerging activity, we have contributed to unfolding-based process discovery [CI-146], and the study of process alignments [CI-121, CI-96, CI-83, CI-60, CI-33].

Finally, over the past years biological challenges have come to the center of our work, in two different directions:

(Re-)programming in discrete concurrent models. Cellular regulatory networks exhibit highly complex concurrent behaviours that is influenced by a high number of perturbations such as mutations. We are in particular investigating discrete models, both in the form of boolean networks and of Petri nets, to harness this complexity, and to obtain viable methods for two interconnected and central challenges:

find attractors, i.e. long-run stable states or sets of states, that indicate possible phenotypes of the organism under study, and

determine reprogramming strategies that apply perturbations in such a way as to steer the cell’s long-run behaviour into some desired phenotype, or away from an undesired one.

Distributed Algorithms in wild or synthetic biological systems. Since the arrival of Matthias Függer in the team, we also work, on the multi-cell level, with a distributed algorithms’ view on microbiological systems, both with the goal to model and analyze existing microbiological systems as distributed systems, and to design and implement distributed algorithms in synthesized microbiological systems. Major long-term goals are drug production and medical treatment via synthesized bacterial colonies.