BOX 2.2 Scales of ECSE Research

Small-scale ECSE research. The program synthesizer, undertaken in the early 1970s, was the forerunner of the programming environments that are in use in most modern software engineering projects today, and yet it was performed at a scale of perhaps six to seven person-years (one faculty member and one graduate student) with total funding of about $150,000 over its lifetime.

Medium-scale ECSE research. The Sprite operating system, described in Chapter 1, was undertaken in the 1970s. It lasted four to five years, involved two full-time-equivalent faculty and several graduate students, and consumed perhaps $1 million over its entire lifetime.

Large-scale ECSE research. The Multics project was a large-scale systems research project undertaken in the 1960s to develop a scalable time-shared computer utility. Over its eight-year R&D lifetime, its ARPA-supported budget was on the order of $2 million per year; in addition, the Bell Telephone Laboratories and General Electric (later Honeywell) contributed comparable resources during this period. At MIT the development effort in addition to staff involved about a dozen faculty members and perhaps two dozen graduate students. Although commercialization of Multics was only moderately successful—a peak of 77 sites worldwide—concepts researched and developed through the Multics project (such as virtual memory, mapped files, dynamic linking, protection mechanisms) play key roles in many operating systems today. The UNIX operating system in particular built heavily on the Multics experience.


Without adequate infrastructure, many ECSE faculty are not able to fulfill their true potential. There are many facets to this infrastructure. The availability of general computing environments in the form of workstations has improved immensely over the past 10 years. However, as described in this chapter, a workstation alone is not sufficient to carry out interesting and important experimental research in software systems, let alone hardware.

The bottom line is that on the basis of infrastructure considerations alone, most ECSE faculty who are trying to pursue important work cannot hope to achieve the same publication or completed-Ph.D. records as their theoretical colleagues: they encounter unavoidable delays before start-up, the work is more time-consuming along the way, and their unavoidable dependence on factors such as graduate students and external vendors can add significant delays or drag to the process.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement