Former SICS-researcher Ali Ghodsi new CEO of Databricks

13 January, 2016 - 15:42

Former SICS researcher Ali Ghodsi has been appointed new CEO of Databricks, one of the hottest startup companies in big data.

"I am honored and excited to lead Databricks in our mission to dramatically simplify big data processing and free users to focus on turning their data into value." Ali says in a pressrelase on Jan 11.

Ali Ghodsi

presented by Seif Haridi, Chief Scientist, SICS and Prof. of Computer Systems, KTH

Ali joined us as a young KTH Ph.D. student at 2002 to work in the joint KTH-SICS research group on distributed computing, where the team just acquired a European research project on Peer-to-Peer computing and overlay networks, called PEPITO. He soon became a vital person in the research group. It became clear that he had unique skills both scientifically and socially. Ali showed unique knowledge both in practice and theory, as well as research and presentations. He embarked on a highly fruitful research on overlay networks and Distributed Hash Tables (DHTs), published papers on it, and built a system (DKS) that was soon used by many universities around Europe.

By the end of 2006 Ali graduated at record speed, in less than four years with an excellent thesis. This is atypical in Sweden since normally Ph.D. studies takes five to six years. After that he joined SICS as a senior researcher until June 2009 where he continued his research on DHTs but took it to a radically different direction compared with contemporary research.

All DHT projects at the time were best-effort in the guarantees they provided, as they assumed to be deployed in very harsh peer-to-peer environments with up to millions of servers spread around the world. Ali boldly challenged this by putting forth the thesis that DHTs would be useful in datacenters and clusters where the scale would be large, but smaller than millions of servers spread world wide, and where failures happen, but not at extreme rates. He then moved on to develop a series of algorithms and protocols for the DKS system, which leveraged those assumptions to provide stronger guarantees. This not only enabled him to provide a system with much better guarantees, but was also highly prescient, as this happened (ca 2002-2006) before research on datacenters and cloud computing took off.

Ali’s work on DKS was used to build many of the systems, developed by him together with our students, such as file system (Keso), pub/sub substrates (Multicat in DKS), and other applications on top of DKS. The work was the initial trigger for the effort that led later to the startup Peerialism in the area of live video distribution.

By mid 2008 Ali became an assistant professor at KTH while maintaining a part-time position at SICS. While at KTH, Ali took a leadership position in the research direction of the group and became a mentor for many of the PhD students.

As an ambitious person that always tries to reach higher goals he sought a postdoc position at the most pioneering research group in cloud computing and big data at UC Berkeley led by Prof. Ion Stoica. His two-year visit to UC Berkeley has of course become highly fruitful.

He made there great contribution in well known and successful projects Mesos, and Tachyon. Just as he picked up the theory of distributed algorithms for his PhD work at KTH and SICS, he picked up theory of economics for his work on scheduling of resources at the data center known as DRF. The properties he suggested and proved for DRF seem to now be routine in follow-up work (whether they use DRF or not). There is no doubt that UC Berkeley's RadLab and AmpLab would have been much different if he had not been there.

In July 2013, together with Prof. Ion Stoica and Matei Zaharia the main creator of SPARK, Ali cofounded Databricks, a company devoted to Big Data Analytics. He assumed the position of VP of engineering and product-management. Today Databricks with its cloud platform and the open source SPARK analytics system is the main actor in the world of Big Data analytics with a valuation of over 10 Billion $, and Ali is the CEO. We at SICS and KTH are proud of Ali and wish him further success and happiness.