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Huawei OlympusMons Award: More than Just an Award

Dec 20, 2021

Huawei set up the OlympusMons Award in 2019, inviting scientists around the world to solve major problems in the data storage field, promoting the overall development of data technology. Professor Shu Jiwu and his team from Tsinghua University won the OlympusMons Award 2020 — claiming CNY1 million in prize money along the way — with their project titled Persistent Memory Storage System Construction and Key Technologies. But who is Shu Jiwu and how did his team win?

About Tsinghua

Tsinghua University is one of the most respected and famous universities in China. Founded over a century ago in 1911, it has been home to generations of talents and thought leaders. Indeed, it's the dream of millions of students to study there. Its prestige and fame, of course, inevitably lead to one's imagination roaming. Are the professors there unapproachable, sitting on pedestals? Are all of the students just geeks? Or is there something more to it, something Professor Shu frames as ordinary people trying to make the right choices, working hard to justify them?

"Standing on the Shoulders of Giants"

Professor Shu is an important figure for network storage technology in China. He is a Special Professor for the national Chang Jiang Scholars Program and a fellow of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the China Computer Federation (CCF). In addition to his role at Tsinghua, working in the Storage Research Group of the Department of Computer Science and Technology, he also serves as the Dean of the School of Informatics at Xiamen University. Aside from his own talent and hard work, he attributes his achievements to Tsinghua University's accumulated expertise in data technology research and his own postdoctoral supervisor, Academician Zheng Weimin at the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), a network storage pioneer. "Standing on the shoulders of giants," as Sir Isaac Newton so famously put it, Professor Shu credits Academician Zheng with leading him to his path of research in data storage, inspiring him on how to think and approach problem solving.

Academician Zheng Weimin and Professor Shu Jiwu

Professor Shu, in turn, has guided and influenced countless students of his own, including Associate Professor Lu Youyou, postdoctoral researcher Chen Youmin, PhD student Wang Qing, and Master's student Zhu Bohong — all members of his award-winning team. Despite their personality differences, the Professor serves as a uniting force for their efforts as they tackle challenge after challenge, researching data technology.

Teaching Is Key

As an ancient Chinese scholar put it, "a teacher is one who passes on the truth, imparts knowledge, and solves puzzles." As the fulcrum of the team, Professor Shu needed to work out how to bring the best out of each team member, balancing their unique skillsets. He summarizes his wider experience of how to inspire students into five key points.

First of all, he stresses nurturing self-learning. Students must not only learn from textbooks, but also think for themselves when encountering questions that don't seem to have an answer. Next, hands-on ability is key: they must learn to verify their ideas with their own code. Cooperation is also important, in order to be able to work efficiently with others, especially when solving complicated problems and building large systems. Equally, expression and communication are also crucial, in order to be able to formulate questions and express opinions clearly through presentations, theses, applications, and speeches. Finally, students must learn how to evaluate each other's work properly and objectively, absorbing the knowledge that's to hand. In the Professor's view, these five abilities need to be constantly improved on through scientific research, which will ultimately give birth to innovation.

Professor Shu admits to feeling much pressure from their collective achievements, explaining that the rapid development of Information Technology (IT) means that there are always new concepts and technologies to tackle, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain.

Outside of the classroom and laboratory, the Professor is an easy-going man who likes to join his students in recreational activities, from sports to singing. In turn, he's managed to get every member of his team interested in swimming and badminton.

Endless Exploration

Professor Shu has taught at Tsinghua University for over two decades. During that time, he has developed three storage systems, working together with his students, including China's first Storage Area Network (SAN)–based mass data storage system. Later, as hardware developed, the Professor led his team to build a flash storage system based on brand new architecture, one where the system software directly manages the flash medium without requiring a flash translation layer. This new architecture was later to be called Open-Channel Solid-State Drive (SSD) architecture.

The system that won the Huawei OlympusMons Award 2020 is a distributed storage system based on persistent memory, a new type of storage component that can store data quickly, just like memory does, and also persistently, as disks do. When the team was building this system, there was no universal storage system based on persistent memory anywhere in the world. Based on a unified abstractional and hierarchical design, the system provides upper-layer applications with various storage services at the same time, such as file, key value, object, and transaction. Featuring large bandwidth, low latency, and high concurrency, this system has gained significant attention and already been applied in the industry.

A Source of Encouragement

Professor Shu praises the Huawei OlympusMons Award, explaining that it is not only a testament to Huawei's increasing emphasis on scientific research, but also powerful encouragement for scientists around the world to tackle storage problems. Together, the academic community and the industry can build better data infrastructure for a brighter digital future. The team members, Lu Youyou, Chen Youmin, Wang Qing, and Zhu Bohong, explain that the award has shone a light on data storage for the wider public and is, in effect, a big thumbs-up for their work, as well as an invitation to the larger scientific family to search for more breakthroughs.

A Soaring Peak

More Than Just an Award

Innovation runs deep in the DNA of Huawei, always striving for excellence and determined to lead the way. Huawei works with the academic sector to promote the commercial implementation of research results in the belief that tackling technical challenges will hugely benefit all.

A volcano found on the planet Mars, Olympus Mons stands some 25 km high, the highest peak anywhere in the known solar system. As this name suggests, the OlympusMons Award was set up to soar to such heights, guiding theoretical research, tackling technological challenges, and facilitating the application of scientific discoveries.

Under the OlympusMons flag, Huawei has also successfully held two Global Data Compression Contests with Moscow State University, Russia, aiming to share the benefits of developments in data technology with the world and help industries become smarter in the digital future.

Join the Global Data Infrastructure Forum 2021 on December 22, 2021, where Huawei will unveil the winners of the OlympusMons Award 2021 and announce the challenges for the OlympusMons Award 2022.