New Faculty Q&A: Shaohua Duan

Shaohua Duan.
Shaohua Duan

In general terms, what does your research consist of?

During my Ph.D. programming, I mainly focused on addressing the fault tolerance challenge for data staging and in-situ workflows in high-performance computing (HPC) systems. While rooted in HPC research, my most recent work is related to fault tolerance and system reliability for storage systems, specifically key-value stores.

Fault tolerance is important for both HPC and storage systems, and they share some common concerns and methodologies to address challenges. Actually, I try to leverage previous research experience in the HPC area to explore fault tolerance approaches for distributed storage systems and single storage systems. As a new faculty in the computer systems area, my vision is to build fault-tolerance and robust storage systems that function correctly and deliver high performance on all emerging platforms and hardware.

What drew you to your field of study and to being a professor?

We increasingly rely upon modern applications such as e-commerce, social networking, finance, and healthcare in our day-to-day lives. These applications run on a variety of platforms, including desktop computers, mobile phones, and cloud data centers. On all such platforms, storage systems play a crucial role in enabling these applications. Achieving high reliability has become a critical yet challenging requirement for storage systems. Therefore, exploring fault tolerance approaches for storage systems is a really interesting study field to me.

I have enthusiasm for teaching and consider it my responsibility not only to educate but also to inspire students. I also greatly enjoy working with students on research projects and, more importantly, making them independent researchers. In this process, I am committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment both in the classroom and in my research group.

What have you learned from your work that surprised you?

There have been so many efforts done by both industry and academia for building reliable and high-performance computer systems. Tons of research work and projects focused on this area during past decades. It seems to be a little bit over attention and well addressed. However, what really surprises me is that due to the higher reliability requirement (e.g., QoS in cloud computing) for modern applications and increasingly complicated computer system architectures, system reliability is still a growing interest in the computer system community. It is a traditional research topic, but it still remains challenging.

If you could name one person who inspires you, who would it be and why?

My previous supervisor, Dr. Remzi, during my postdoc training is the person who inspires me in doing computer system research. I appreciate his kindness, help, and support to me and my research during my postdoc training, especially during the Covid pandemic, the darkest days of my life. I am so proud to be a member in ADSL lab led by Dr. Remzi.

If you’ve been to campus, what’s your favorite spot on campus or in the Pullman area?

Personally, the gym (Student Recreation Center) is my favorite spot on campus. Body exercise like performing Yoga or jumping speed rope can relax my body and mind. I also enjoy the peace, calm, and relaxing feeling when I take the mindfulness meditation there.

If you hadn’t gone into academia, what do you think you would have done instead?

When I was a child, I dreamed of being an artist. As a teenager, I was specifically interested in being a countertenor, a tenor whose vocal range is equivalent to mezzo-soprano voice types. During my PhD program, I took vocal classes to learn opera arias in my spare time. Giacomo Puccini and his opera Gianni Schicchi are my favorite composer and opera. These professional learning, practicing, and performing experiences raise so many happy memories. In my view, the common ground between artists and scientists is that they require enthusiasm and effort to continuously improve professional skill and create new and interesting things that we have never seen before.

What advice do you have for students?

Find some area that you are fully interested in, and then set your career goal based on that, and continually make efforts to reach that goal. Meanwhile, learn from your failures.

What are the most rewarding and most difficult parts of your work?

Doing research always means exploring new territory, learning and trying new approaches, and addressing new challenges. Those also mean that research is full of risk and opportunity, which sometimes make me feel anxious and exhausted or it can harvest surprising rewards. I clearly remember these rewards and challenges in my most recent project.

What do you think will make Voiland College a great place to teach, conduct research, and learn?

I have been studying, working, and living in the multiple cities and universities during past 10 years. My personal experience tells me WSU at Pullman and Voiland College are a great place to teach, conduct research, and learn. As a small town, Pullman is very quiet, safe, and friendly for people to work and live. Voiland College faculty can focus on their research and worry less about things like the cost of living, housing prices, and security, which are quite common concern for faculty in big cities.