Distributed Computing
ETH Zurich

Discrete Event Systems (HS 2017)

Over the past few decades the rapid evolution of computing, communication, and information technologies has brought about the proliferation of new dynamic systems. A significant part of activity in these systems is governed by operational rules designed by humans. The dynamics of these systems are characterized by asynchronous occurrences of discrete events, some controlled (e.g. hitting a keyboard key, sending a message), some not (e.g. spontaneous failure, packet loss).

The mathematical arsenal centered around differential equations that has been employed in systems engineering to model and study processes governed by the laws of nature is often inadequate or inappropriate for discrete event systems. The challenge is to develop new modeling frameworks, analysis techniques, design tools, testing methods, and optimization processes for this new generation of systems.

In this lecture we give an introduction to discrete event systems. We start out the course by exploring the limits of what is computable and what is not. In doing so, we will consider three distinct models of computation which are often used to model discrete event systems: finite automata, push-down automata and Turing machines (ranked in terms of expressiveness power). In the second part of the course we analyze discrete event systems. We first examine discrete event systems from an average-case perspective: we model discrete events as stochastic processes, and then apply continuous time markov chains and queueing theory for an understanding of the typical behavior of a system. Then we analyze discrete event systems from a worst-case perspective using the theory of online algorithms and adversarial queueing. In the last part of the course we introduce methods that allow to formally verify certain properties of Finite Automata and Petri Nets. These are some typical analysis questions we will look at: Do two given systems behave the same? Does a given system behave as intended? Does the system eventually enter a dangerous state?

Course language: English and German

Lecture by Prof. Lothar Thiele, Prof. Laurent Vanbever, and Prof. Roger Wattenhofer, Thursday 13.15-15.00 @ ETZ E 6, starting 21.09.2017.

Exercises by Sebastian Brandt, Romain Jacob, Ahmed El-Hassany and Maria Apostolaki, Thursday 15.15-16.45 @ ETZ E 6

Exercise Proceedings

At the beginning of every lecture week, we will publish a new exercise sheet here. This exercise sheet is intended to be solved during the exercise session on Thursday where two tutors will be available to assist you and to answer potential questions. The exercises often require information from the lecture notes, so please make sure that you have them available in some way.

You can hand in your solutions for correction after the exercise session on a voluntary basis. But this is not mandatory or required to be admitted to the exam.

Lecture material


Title Lecturer Slides Additional Material References


Exercise material


Title Exercise Sample Solution


References