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New solutions for globally distributed systems

Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems

Address the most ambitious issues in experimental computer science

The PDCS programme is unique in the Netherlands and one of the few of its kind in the world. It involves the design, implementation, testing and analysis of complex systems, emphasising experimental computer science rather than theory. The curriculum includes several software lab courses, which train you to carry out scientific experiments using methodologies to solve challenging user cases and research problems.

You’ll study the hardware and software architectures that can scale to up to geographically distributed systems, serving billions of applications in parallel or millions of concurrent users. You’ll understand how to address challenges of scalability, performance, reliability, security and privacy. And you’ll learn how to use experimental and empirical approaches to address the enormous complexity of real-world systems and their applications, and how they interact with actual users. 

What’s more, you’ll design, implement and evaluate the properties of complex systems. To do this, you’ll work in small teams to learn valuable collaborative research skills. All courses revolve around our research areas:

High Performance Distributed Computing – programming environments for clusters, clouds, heterogeneous systems, many-core, networked systems, sensor networks, smartphones and internet of things, applied to deep learning, astronomy, forensics, e-health, climate, multimedia, bioinformatics, smart cities, etc. 

Massivising Computer Systems – making (distributed) computer systems scalable, reliable and performant, yet forming efficient, engineered ecosystems available to massive numbers of end-users. This approach improves large-scale infrastructure, leverages modern hardware such as programmable accelerators and RDMA networking, and uses emerging storage technology – touching datacentres, cloud computing and big data. This affects numerous popular applications in the digital economy, such as e-Science, business-critical applications, online gaming, etc. 

Systems for Artificial Intelligence – systems to apply AI algorithms in big-data environments, especially applying deep learning and/or logical reasoning techniques to large volumes of unstructured data (natural language processing) or semi-structured data (knowledge graphs/social networks).

Systems and Network Security – system-level security and reliability, including software hardening, exploitation, binary and malware analysis, software testing, security metrics, side channels, hardware fault attacks and reverse engineering.

The start date of this programme is September 1st.

First year

The Master's in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems is a two-year programme that offers you a great balance between classroom and applied work. The curriculum is made up of compulsory core courses, elective courses and a Master’s thesis. The emphasis shifts gradually from classroom lectures to independent, research-oriented study with practical work, seminars and the identification of open research questions.  

Compulsory courses include:

  • Parallel Programming – how to reduce execution time by writing programs that run in parallel on a large number of processors;
  • Distributed Systems – software systems that, single or combined, enable distributed operation, from clusters up to global scalability;
  • Computer & Network Security – a wide-ranging course on the security of computer systems and networks.

Elective courses you can choose include Evolutionary Computing, Service-Oriented Design, Coding and Cryptography, Information Visualisation and literally dozens of others – the possibilities are endless. You’ll also have the opportunity to test your knowledge in at least one large project before your final thesis.

See also the study guide for a complete overview of the study programme. Or download the year schedule directly. 

Second year

In your second year, you’ll take a core course in Advanced Operating Systems, as well as choose three electives. In parallel, you’ll write your research proposal. The final semester is dedicated to the Master’s thesis, which usually involves conducting research together with a member of the academic staff.  

See also the study guide for a complete overview of the study programme. Or download the year schedule directly. 

CompSys, an outstanding section of VU Amsterdam

The Computer Systems Section (CompSys) and the PDCS programme were set up by professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum, winner of the ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award, the ACM/SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education and the IEEE award.

CompSys consists of three interconnected research groups, and enjoys an outstanding international reputation in both research and education. Our staff are world-class scientists in mobile and sensor networks, grid and cloud computing, distributed systems and ecosystems, operating systems and computer networks, and the performance, security and reliability aspects of all these systems. The textbooks written by CompSys members are used at universities all around the world.

For more information on our award-winning education, research groups, projects and publications, visit the VU Computer Systems website

Short track Master's programme

We offer a special short-track, one-year programme for outstanding students from our partner universities.

You may apply for this programme if you have completed Master’s-level courses (worth at least 60 credits, entitling you to exemptions from VU courses) at our partner universities: the University Politehnica of Bucharest in Romania and the Amrita University in India. Please discuss your study plans with your local coordinator:

You will need formal approval that you’ve been selected for the short-track Master’s programme from your coordinator, who will inform us if you have been selected.

The Examination Board of the Faculty of Sciences decides which applicants to admit to the programme. You’ll find out whether your application has been successful within four weeks of completing the online application.

A limited number of fellowships are available for (partial) funding of this programme. Read more information on the VU Fellowship Programme.

For practical matters, like accommodation, living costs, financial aid, work, etc., contact our International Office.

Change your future with the Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems programme

Change your future with the Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems programme

On completing the PDSC research Master’s programme, you’ll be well prepared for a career in academic or industrial research, or for a highly sought-after role as a lead designer or systems architect.

After graduating, you could also continue your studies with a PhD research position at a top university. Or, you could join one of the excellent research labs in the industry.

Explore your future prospects
A spiral tunnel with the sun at the end, in a blue sky with a cloud

Want to know more about the curriculum of this programme?

Please contact the programme director

Dr. Cristiano Giuffrida,