August 21, 2011

A warm feedback from Sigcomm

The SIGCOMM conference just finished two days ago. Papers, slides, and the video of the talks are online for free. As could be expected, there is no comparison to my experience at ICC. Despite video recording prevented presenters to move on the stage, the talks were excellent: long enough, well prepared, and in a perfect english. For every talk, many questions immediately raised and people actually debate during the coffee break and social events. In brief, Sigcomm is a conference that is worth the price (registration and travel). A series of remarks below:
  • a Sigcomm paper should present "novel results firmly substantiated by experimentation, simulation or analysis." My understanding is that "substantiating ideas" now prevails, and that the novelty has become debatable. Some ideas, which are remarkably substantiated, do not open enough perspectives. For example, deploying wireless antenna on top of data-center racks is a cool idea, but I would not include it in my list of major scientific breakthroughs. Sigcomm program committees are expected to prefer papers that are "exciting but flawed" to the "correct but boring" ones, yet exciting is not always synonyms of inspiring. In this vein, the program includes three papers related to bit-torrent. Come on, we are in 2011! How many scientists are still interested in such an overwhelmingly addressed research area?
  • Europe is back, with six papers. I already mentioned that EU-funded FP7 STREP projects match the characteristics of a competitive Sigcomm paper. This year's program demonstrate the benefits of writing Sigcomm-compatible FP7 project deliverables as all accepted European papers are (sometimes partially) funded by FP7 framework. Such fundings give the opportunity to evaluate a well-identified idea though large-scale deployment. The twenty-six other papers come from prestigious american institutions, which are probably the only places that combine a unique skill in the Art of Writing academic papers and the capacity to substantiate any idea with a bunch of outstanding experimentations.
  • I am not really into measurements, and I will undoubtedly not be. That's probably why I struggle to identify the scientific point behind the six papers that deal with measurement in the program. Indeed, it seems that the main contribution is the result of the measure, not the way these measures have been obtained. They do not present a novel super-approach to make a brand new measurement set. Rather, the idea is that these measures provide key insights of the behavior of a particular application. I agree, but does it deserve a 14-pages LaTeX-written paper? Measurement papers would probably better fit with an infographics (like this one), wouldn't they?
  • I enjoyed some presentations, especially the controversial model that explains the evolution of protocol adoptions, the scheduling of network flows in data-centers, the synchronization of multiple distant data-centers, and the reduction of redundant data transfer.