Inventive Graduate Student Builds Breakthrough Database
April 30, 2013
For some folks, deadlines can lead to innovation. One graduate student’s efforts to speed up his research has resulted in the inspired, high-speed parallel database MapD, we learn from DataInformed‘s encouraging piece, “Fast Database Emerges from MIT Class, GPUs and Student’s Invention.” Todd Mostak’s in-a-pinch breakthrough could soon help others in business as well as academia.
The informative article contains too many specifics to cover here, but I suggest checking it out. It should be fascinating reading for anyone interested in data management. I personally think the use of graphics processors designed for gaming is a stroke of genius. Or maybe desperation (the two can be closely related). Reporter Ian B. Murphy tells us:
“While taking a class on databases at MIT, Mostak built a new parallel database, called MapD, that allows him to crunch complex spatial and GIS data in milliseconds, using off-the-shelf gaming graphical processing units (GPU) like a rack of mini supercomputers. Mostak reports performance gains upwards of 70 times faster than CPU-based systems. . . .
“‘I had the realization that this had the potential to be majorly disruptive,’ Mostak said. ‘There have been all these little research pieces about this algorithm or that algorithm on the GPU, but I thought, “Somebody needs to make an end-to-end system.” I was shocked that it really hadn’t been done.’”
Well, sometimes it takes someone from outside a field to see what seems obvious in retrospect. Mostak’s undergraduate experience was in economics, anthropology, and math, and he was in Harvard’s Middle Eastern Studies program when he was compelled to develop MapD. A database class at MITgave him the knowledge he needed to build this tool, which he created to help with the tweet-heavy, Arab Spring-related thesis he was working on.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab has now snapped up the innovator. Though some questioned hiring someone with such a lean computer-science education, Lab director Sam Madden knows that Mostak’s unconventional background only means he has a unique point of view. The nascent computer scientist has already shown he has the talent to make it in this field.
Though Mostak says he still has work ahead to perfect his system, he does plan to share MapD as an open source project in the near future. Is he concerned about opening his work to the public? Nope; he states:
“If worse comes to worst, and somebody steals the idea, or nobody likes it, then I have a million other things I want to do too, in my head. I don’t think you can be scared. Life is too short.”
That it is. I suspect we will be hearing more from this creative thinker in the years to come.
Cynthia Murrell, April 30, 2013