Exclusive interview with Prof. Alain Costes


From left to right: J.-C. Laprie, P. Nedkov, A. Costes and R. Aiken

Alain Costes is French Vice-Minister for Research and oversees the Directorate for Technology. He is Founding Vice-Chair of WG 10.4 on Dependable Computing and Fault-Tolerance, an IFIP Silver Core Holder since 1986 and Chairman of the Support Committee of IFIP Congress 2004 in Toulouse. Most importantly for IFIP, he is a strong believer in international cooperation, a keen supporter of IFIP and a Friend of the Delivery Co.

In conjunction with the participation of the IFIP President and the Executive Director in UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris, Dr. Jean-Claude Laprie, French GA representative to IFIP, took the initiative to arrange a number of meetings with representatives of the French research community, industry and the public sector. Mr. Costes hosted a meeting and lunch at the Ministry of Research on 31 October and then accompanied the IFIP representatives to Toulouse for further meetings and discussions.

This interview was done on 2 November in the office of Prof. Costes at the Laboratoire d’Analyse et d’Architecture des Systemes (LAAS) http://www.laas.fr in Toulouse.


Delivery Co.: Alain, we know that you were one of the persons who played a major role in the establishment of IFIP WG 10.4 on Dependable Computing and Fault-Tolerance http://www.dependability.org/wg10.4 Please share with us your recollections of the early days and the current work.

Alain Costes: The idea of forming an international group on Dependable Computing and Fault-Tolerance had floated around since the first Symposium on Fault-Tolerant Computing of the IEEE Computer Society in 1971. The founder and chairman of this event, Prof. Algiridas Avizienis from the University of California at Los Angeles, and I felt that an international organization such as IFIP could provide a natural home base for the group. The concept of WG 10.4 was formulated during the IFIP Working Conference on Reliable Computing and Fault Tolerance in September 1979 in London. Prof. Avizienis and I were both strongly involved in the event and we proposed the formation of the Group within IFIP. The proposal was accepted and Prof. Avizienis became the Founding Chair of the group and I was appointed as Vice Chairman. We both served in these posts until 1986.

WG 10.4 has held 38 meetings between 1981 and the end of 2000: 18 in the USA, 7 in France, 2 each in Canada, Germany, and Japan and one meeting in Australia, Austria, England, Italy, India, South Africa, Tunisia.

Seven IFIP Working Conferences on Dependable Computing for Critical Applications (DCCA) were organized by WG 10.4:

1989 - in Santa Barbara, California, USA,
1991 - in Tucson, Arizona, USA,
1992 - in Palermo, Sicily, Italy,
1994 - in San Diego, California, USA,
1995 - in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA
1997 - in Grainau (Garmisch-Partenkirchen), Germany,
1999 - in San Jose California, USA.

Since 1982, WG 10.4 is a cooperating sponsor of the annual International Symposium on Fault-Tolerant Computing, organized by the TC on Fault-Tolerant Computing of the IEEE Computer Society

In 2000 the IFIP "DCCA" series and the IEEE CS Symposium series were integrated to form the jointly sponsored IFIP-IEEE CS International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN). The first DSN conference was in June 2000 in New York City, USA and the second edition was held in Gothenburg, Sweden in July 2001.

There are 3 persons with outstanding contributions to the work of WG 10.4. These are the Founding Chair, A. Avizienis, the Past Chair Jean-Claude Laprie and the late William C. Carter. Last year we instituted an IEEE CS-IFIP "William C. Carter" Award for Ph.D. students in the area of Fault-Tolerant Computing.

Delivery Co.: Your work at the WG level and your participation in IFIP Congresses and IFIP events make you a valuable resource person for advice on IFIP matters. Last year, you attended the IFIP General Assembly meeting in Beijing to support the French invitation for IFIP Congress 2004 in Toulouse. Is there anything that you wish to convey to the IFIP General Assembly?

Alain Costes: It is very important to say that at the working group level IFIP has a wealth of professional resources, depth of research excellence, specificity and continuity which are prerequisites for ongoing and future activities. The IFIP General Assembly offers a different environment. It is management-oriented. The national GA representatives, who do not necessarily have to be specialized in IFIP WG topics, represent their societies and help forge the key parameters of IFIP’s policy and strategy.

It is imperative for IFIP to be aware of emerging new areas of research and technology. For this reason, it may be a good idea if, along with the business issues, national GA representatives are invited to report on significant research results and new areas of interest at the national level. IFIP needs to keep such major developments on its radar screen and if necessary to take them onboard as new areas of activity. It is important that national GA representatives work closely with their TC members and WG representatives based in their country so as to rethink themes and activities and suggest necessary changes. Both IFIP and the national members could benefit from such links and closer partnership.

Delivery Co.: Is there any theme or topic for Congress 2004 that you consider particularly relevant?

Alain Costes: Many topics could be incorporated in the program but I find it essential to stress that the IPC needs to ensure a dynamic link between Research, Industry and Society if we wish the Congress to be successful. Such a link is important not only for IFIP, the Ministry of Research also places a lot of emphasis on these interrelated areas.

Delivery Co.: You are a Vice-Minister and your responsibilities include the Directorate for Technology at the Ministry of Research. Which areas does your Directorate cover?

Alain Costes: There are four main areas of activity overseen by the Directorate. These are Aeronautics and Space research, Life Sciences (including biotechnology, pharmacology), Science and Technology in Information and Communication, and Environment (energy incl. nuclear energy and transportation). We also have a supplementary activity related to Information and Communication Technology at all levels of education.

Delivery Co.: We recently informed the IFIP Community about a project in Grenoble [PN ref. http://www.ifip.or.at/mail/msg00074.html ] Is the Ministry involved?

Alain Costes: Yes, the project "European Residence dedicated to Educational Multimedia" is an activity falling within the scope of responsibilities of the Ministry of Research. I am glad that Prof. Cornu is closely associated with IFIP.

Delivery Co.: You are born in Toulouse and you have gone up the research and administration ladders in your field -- you were for 12 years Director of the Lab before Jean-Claude took over. You were President of the National Institute of Polytechnics in Toulouse until October 2000 and then before the end of your term you had to leave for Paris with your new appointment. What do you miss in Paris?

Alain Costes: Actually, every Friday I am back in Toulouse for the weekend. The moment I am back I try to forget my work at the Ministry and to concentrate on my research interests in the environment of LAAS.

Delivery Co.: We hope to have some 2,500 participants for our Congress in Toulouse. Some of them are connoisseurs of the French cuisine and would definitely appreciate a good recommendation for wining and dining. Any suggestions?

Alain Costes: Now that’s very hard to do since there are many good restaurants in Toulouse. The Restaurant d’Opera, where we were last night, is a "two Michelin stars" establishment and not much can go wrong there but, of course, a meal could be expensive. One typical French restaurant, which the delegates could check out is the Brasserie "Flo" with good cuisine and a nice view of the Garonne river.

Delivery Co.: Any special dish or drink of the region?

Alain Costes: The Gaillac is a local wine and the region is famous for its Armagnac. A local dish for the delegates to try is "Cassoulet" consisting of white beans, Toulouse sausages, confit de canard (duck conserve).

[PN - After the interview we did some research and found a recipe at http://www.saveurs.sympatico.ca/ency_3/haricot/casoulet.htm ]

Delivery Co.: Hobbies?

Alain Costes: Tennis, Swimming, Belote [PN – French card game, also very popular in Bulgaria]

Delivery Co.: Do you follow the communications of the Delivery Co.? Can we expect to see you some day in Laxenburg?

Alain Costes: Yes, indeed! I get your mail at LAAS and I would appreciate if you could also subscribe me with the Ministry ID. I would like to visit you in Laxenburg and I will let you know.