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UT Arlington team wins NSF grant to exterminate computer bugs

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

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Media Contact: Herb Booth, Office:817-272-7075, Cell:214-546-1082, hbooth@uta.edu

Computer “bugs,” or flaws in software programs and systems, cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars each year.

The National Science Foundation is investing nearly $500,000 in a UT Arlington computer science engineering team’s work to help debug such applications and keep business running smoothly.

Christoph Csallner, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering, is principal investigator for the three-year grant project titled “Testing Large-Scale Database-Centric Applications.” Csallner’s team aims to find as many bugs as possible in computer programs that interact with very large databases and to create techniques that check user programs for those bugs.

“Bugs can be as little as a misplaced or mistyped computer character, and it is extremely difficult to find these bugs in these applications that interact with very large databases,” Csallner said. “Our goal is to find as many bugs as possible as cheaply as possible in these applications.”

Christoph Csallner

Christoph Csallner

Co-principal investigators on the project are Assistant Professor Chengkai Li and Associate Professor Leonidas Fegaras, also of the UT Arlington Computer Science and Engineering Department.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology estimates that better bug-finding techniques could save the U.S. economy at least $20 billion annually. Reducing the amount of time, energy and money spent to identify application bugs will greatly reduce the cost of doing business, Csallner said. Larger companies can spend millions of dollars to debug database applications when something goes wrong.

J.P. Bardet, dean of the UT Arlington College of Engineering, said Csallner’s research touches all aspects of business and society.

“Business depends on applications running smoothly and efficiently,” Bardet said. “The work this team is doing can save business and industry billions.”

Csallner’s team also will develop techniques that can find MapReduce-specific bugs automatically.

MapReduce is a programming model popularized by Google that runs giant collections of data in parallel on very large databases. It’s typically used to collect information from numerous databases, and then aggregate that information in a usable format.

Csallner previously won a $250,000 grant to study “Preserving Test Coverage While Achieving Data Anonymity for Database-Centric Applications.” That project is examining ways software engineers can ensure data privacy while still identifying bugs in computer programs that depend on confidential data.

“Unfortunately, none of the existing tools available take into account basic software engineering tasks such as testing,” Csallner said. “We are trying to address a fundamental software engineering question: How can a data owner protect private information so that subjects cannot be identified while the data retains their effectiveness for software engineering tasks?”

Csallner’s research is representative of the innovations under way at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive research institution of nearly 33,500 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more information.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.