[Rice University]COMP 520 Syllabus   -   Fall 2012

Tentative list of topics

Fundamental communication paradigms: remote procedure call, group communication, distributed shared memory, and distributed file systems.  Building scalable, fault-tolerant distributed services: server architecture, clustering of servers, content distribution networks, and peer-to-peer networks.

Course staff

Alan Cox (Instructor), alc@cs.rice.edu, DH 3009, x5965.


MWF 2:00-2:50PM, DH 1075

Students are expected to attend all lectures, baring extenuating circumstances.  Lecture notes and handouts will be made available on the Web at  http://www.cs.rice.edu/~alc/comp520.

Office hours

By appointment (please use email).


We will provide links to the papers on the reading list.  There is no textbook for this course.  However, you might want to refer to one or more of the following books for background.  If you're considering the purchase of a general textbook on distributed systems, I recommend the first book.  (If you already own Tanenbaum's Modern Operating Systems, the coverage of distributed systems in the second half of that book will do.)

Assignment and Tests

Each student will be required to make at least two class presentations of a research paper from the reading list.  Submission of a presentation outline and a practice presentation are required.  Students will undertake course projects individually or in pairs; written project proposals, intermediate and final reports, and a project presentation are required.  There will be no exams in this course.

Honor Code Policy

All assignments in the course are conducted under the Rice Honor Code.  Students are allowed and encouraged to use existing code from any source in their project, provided that they disclose the nature and source of the incorporated code in the project report.


A tentative composition of the grade is 50% for the project, and 50% for the class presentations and participation.


COMP 421, or permission of instructor.  Enrollment is limited to 30; consent of instructor is required.

Time Management

The project in this course requires a great deal of initiative, motivation and energy.  Each team is asked to explore and study a different technical area on its own, rather than merely applying material that was previously covered in the lectures.  It is imperative that students manage their time in a responsible manner and ensure that the team makes steady and adequate progress towards completing its project.

Students with Disabilities

Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations is requested to speak with me during the first two weeks of class.  All discussions will remain confidential.  Students with disabilities will need to also contact Disability Support Services in the Ley Student Center.