Steve Blackburn receives Test of Time Award

steveblackburn
Wednesday 25 June 2014

ACM Sigmetrics have awarded Steve Blackburn the Test of Time award for his paper ‘Myths and Realities: The Performance Impact of Garbage Collection.’

The paper was originally presented at the ACM Sigmetrics conference in 2004. At the time, Steve had just returned from a post-doctorate at the University of Massachusetts and was working on a new open source Java implementation.

“I had established new collaborations and was feeling ambitious so together with my colleagues we built from scratch a high performance garbage collection framework that was open source, and that allowed a host of folk law to be put to the test,” Steve said.

Steve and his colleagues built the system in just three months. “A feat that I doubt I could pull off today!”

The paper quantified the garbage collection behaviour of three key heap collectors and has been cited more than 192 times.

In computer science terms, garbage collection is an old idea, first published in 1960 by John McCarthy as a way to automatically reclaim unused memory. Prior to Steve’s work there had been no in-depth study of garbage collection (GC) performance.

“This was partly because GC had fallen out of vogue for decades prior to a major revival in the late 90’s, partly because many existing garbage collectors were inaccessible, locked inside proprietary implementations, and certainly because there were no systems that allowed side-by-side comparison of different techniques,” Steve explains.

“Our paper describes how we use that new system to evaluate different algorithms and tease out myth from reality among the well-established folk law. The system we built, MMTk, became and remains the most widely used framework for garbage collection research."

Read the winning paper.

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