[2010-04-15] “Distributed Systems”

“Distributed Systems: Concepts and Design” by George Coulouris, Jean Dollimore and Tim Kindberg is an introductory text-book on distributed computing. It provides a broad overview of the basic principles as well as the major issues in building such systems. Since I happened to have the second edition around, I decided to read that instead of going for the currently-available fourth edition (a fifth edition is in the works), as the two editions didn't seem to differ significantly. This turned out to be not that bad a decision.

There is a great amount of overlap between the foundational chapters of this book and decent books on computer networks and operating systems. The useful bits of the book comes more than half-way into the text. The discussion of the design of distributed systems and the implementation of distributed algorithms is at a high-level - this is the book for you if you want to quickly get an overview of the issues and the general approaches but not if you want to actually implement any of the algorithms.

That said the book is quite comprehensive in its coverage. The problems in synchronising disparate clocks, coordination, replication, concurrency control, transaction management, recovery, fault-tolerance, etc. are all covered here along with the major approaches to solving these problems in distributed systems. The language used is fairly friendly and formalisms are used sparingly.

If you are a student, you can use this book to get an overview of the field and perhaps to see if this is an area worth pursuing. If you are a professional faced with building a distributed system, you can use this book to get an idea of the challenges you will run into and the approaches you can use to tackle them.

Distributed computing is a field with some very interesting problems for many of which there aren't any perfect solutions. Some of the current distributed systems used for serving web-based solutions are massive and on a scale far bigger than what could be imagined just a decade back. This is a subject that now needs to be a part of the core computer science and engineering curriculum instead of being a specialised course. This book provides a useful, but by no means sufficient, guide to the field.

Other Posts from 2010