Trip Report

Visit to Dartmouth

May 6, 1999
Hanover, NH

Frank Manola
Object Services and Consulting


I visited Dartmouth College to give a talk on my CoABS-related work, at the invitation of Dave Kotz, PI of Dartmouth's D'Agents project.  In addition to giving the talk, I spent some time talking with members of the project, and some other students.

Dave Kotz

Dave briefly went over the work they were doing, and  showed me some of their computing facilities.  We discussed the development of CoABS Grid ideas and how that work was coming together.  I also told him generally what the idea of technical exchange with ALP was all about.

Katya Pelekhov

The D'Agents project has built information access agents that interface with the Smart full-text information retrieval system.  For each query, an agent visits a sequence of sites;  at each site, it interacts with a local Smart agent to search a local collection of documents.  Smart uses a vector-space model to measure the textual similarity between documents.  The agent fuses the results the returns to the user site to display the results.  One of the result displays is as an interactive graph showing clusters of related documents and inter-document similarities.  Katya is working on improved clustering techniques in this application.  I asked her what she thought about developing these techniques so that they could be better-integrated with mechanisms for searching more structured information in distributed systems, noting that there was a spectrum of available information which might be considered to have full-text retrieval systems at one end, relational databases at the other, and semi-structured Web information somewhere in the middle.  It would be nice to be able to tweak her techniques so they could use, e.g., ontology/thesaurus information where that was available (e.g., to distinguish between the same term used in two information repositories which was known to have distinct meanings in those repositories).  She said it was an interesting idea, but she hadn't considered those other kinds of information sources.

Daniela Rus

Daniela is a co-investigator on D'Agents.  She described her interest both in information access, and robotics.  The general idea behind using mobile agents for information access is bringing the computation (search in this case) to the data.  I noted the need to also consider arguments such as those used by the people who built page-server OODBMS architectures, namely that off-loading computation from servers to clients created better (and often fairer) load distribution (particularly when the clients are PCs, which are becoming more powerful all the time.  One of the advantages of an architecture supporting highly flexible mobility (including agent capabilities) is that it would allow all sorts of load adjustments based on whatever the situation required, rather than imposing a single model.  We discussed some other scenarios in which agents would be useful, e.g., mobile platforms with intermittent connections, where there were fewer alternatives to agents.

George Cybenko

George Cybenko is the TIE coordinator for the CoABS Scalability TIEs.  He is very interested in technology exchange with ALP, and feels that ALP can provide potential scenarios and issues for his TIE.  ALP is particularly relevant because of the way it uses clusters to model organizations.  He has noted that a hierarchical command structure is a realistic basis for estimating potential agent deployment scaling needs, since the command structure helps pre-determine the number of agents, and the number of agents each other agent might have to talk to.   He expressed interest in any projections ALP had as to the ultimate numbers of clusters, plugins, etc. to be developed.  I showed him the configuration of the clusters for the 1998 demonstrations (which I was using in my talk), and said that I'd heard some other numbers, but couldn't recall them offhand.  When I returned from the trip, I contacted Marshall Brinn, who sent me some numbers, which I forwarded to George.  [The figures are shown below.  Marshall said they may be off by a factor of two or so, but not by orders of magnitude:
                                FY97    FY98    FY99    FY00    FY01
Site                            3       5       7       10      15
Cluster                 12      76      125     170     250
Plugins/Generic         2       15      30      45      60
Plugins/Specific                24      87      1200    1700    2500]

George also talked about the work they are doing in mobile computing in the D'Agents project.  One of the systems they are using is called RoamAbout, which bridges local wireless networks to a wired Ethernet LAN, with PCMCIA cards providing the wireless LAN connections for laptops.  They are talking about buying some radio spectrum to do more intensive experiments.  I also spoke with a number of George's students, who described the work they were doing.

My Talk

My talk (basically to the D'Agents team) was entitled "Scalability in Large-Scale Agent Systems".  Since Dave had originally asked me to talk about "what I was working on", after a brief overview of the various components of the Agility project, and what we thought agents were (objects with additional capabilities of various kinds), the talk broke down into two main sections:  the Grid, and the CoABS-ALP technology exchange work.  I briefly surveyed the various sources of "Grid" ideas (e.g., the computational grid and DoD grid ideas described in my Grid white paper), and some target capabilities for the CoABS Grid (from the initial look-ahead paper).  I noted that the actual work on the CoABS Grid was pursuing a general line that might be described as an "agentized [OMG] Object Management Architecture" (agents + services), and that it needed to be thought of in terms of multiple layers of grid-like things (the computational, data, object, and agent grids described in the white paper).  This would, for example, provide the agents with access to the computational infrastructure they needed for such things as load-balancing, as well as the access to large-scale data sources (databases, the Web) they needed to be effective ("The Internet gives agents something to do").  I pointed folks to the Grid papers and other material on our Web site.  I then gave a brief overview of ALP's approach to building a multiple agent system (covering the logistics problem, cluster organization, and both inter- and intra-cluster interactions), and a comparison of ALP to a Grid.  I also noted some ways in which ALP could be enhanced to become more "agentized", reviewing some of the topics mentioned in my Technical Exchange Area proposals.  Finally, I made some general remarks about lessons that could be learned about building multiple agent systems from having looked at the Grid and ALP, most especially:


D'Agents project information can be obtained at