The ACM, which also awards the annual Turing Award, frequently called “the Nobel Prize of computer science,” established the ACM-Infosys award in 2007. Kaashoek is only its fourth recipient. The award is accompanied by a prize of $150,000 provided by the Infosys Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Infosys Technologies.
The award citation highlighted three distinct strands of Kaashoek’s work. The first is his contribution to the development of a new operating-system design, dubbed the Exokernel. Operating systems typically interpret instructions written in high-level programming languages and oversee their execution on a device’s hardware. The Exokernel lets application developers themselves specify how the hardware should execute their code, which can greatly improve performance. The chief role of the operating system becomes the enforcement of security, ensuring, for example, that programs don’t illicitly access each other’s data.
The second strand is Kaashoek’s work on distributed hash tables, which make it possible for decentralized information systems — such as peer-to-peer file-sharing systems — to store and retrieve data much more efficiently. And the third is Kaashoek’s role in developing software systems for handling sensitive information. One of these projects lets developers specify high-level security policies for their applications, and the system automatically adds security checks to code that accesses protected information.
According to CSAIL director Victor Zue, Kaashoek’s work on the Exokernel and his work on distributed hash tables “have influenced distributed systems research worldwide, and have also found use in the commercial world.” Adds Zue, “He is a superb teacher, mentor, collaborator, and entrepreneur. All of us at CSAIL are thrilled at this latest and significant recognition of his accomplishments.”