Peter J. Denning

PETER J. DENNING is Distinguished Professor, Chairman of the Computer Science Department, and Director of the Cebrowski Institute for Innovation and Information Superiority, at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

He has been a leading scientist in computing since his graduation from MIT in 1968. At MIT he discovered the locality principle for how computations access storage objects and used it to invent the influential working set model for program behavior. His original paper was named to the Operating Systems Hall of Fame in 2005. The working set model became the heart of memory caching systems, which are now deeply embedded into all computers and the Internet. He contributed important extensions to operational analysis, an approach to computing system performance prediction that overcame strong limitations of stochastic queueing models. He co-founded CSNET, the first open community research network based on ARPANET technology and a key transition from the ARPANET to the NSFNET. He led the Digital Library project for the Association for Computing Machinery, setting new standards for on-line publication and distribution of scientific information. He was founding Director of the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS) at NASA-Ames, one of the first centers in computational science. He currently leads the Great Principles of Computing project, which is collecting the scientific theories of computing, and the Innovation Project, which is identifying and teaching the foundational practices of innovation. He has published 315 scientific articles and 7 books, and is working on two more books. He has served in numerous leadership positions within the Association for Computing Machine since 1967, including President. He has received 24 awards including three honorary degrees, three professional society fellowships, five technical contributions, six distinguished service, six education awards, and a customer quality service award.

Academics. Denning has been part of academic teaching and research since graduating MIT. He was at Princeton (1968-72) during the formative stages of its computer science department. He was at Purdue (1972-1983), the nation's first CS department; he was department head for his final four years there. He was founding director of RIACS at NASA-Ames Research Center (1983-1991), where he formed and led interdisciplinary teams in computational science with NASA; RIACS was an institute of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). He was at George Mason University (1991-2002). There he was Computer Science Department chair, Associate Dean for Computing, Vice Provost for Continuing Professional Education, Chair of the Technology Council, and special assistant to the vice president for information technology. He founded the Center for the New Engineer in 1993. He and his partner, Danny Menasce, pioneered in educational technologies including web-based interactive tutorials (1994), a network linking K12 schools to the Internet (1995), and the Hyperlearning Meter (1996), a system for on-line self-assessment and certification. He joined the Naval Postgraduate School (2002) as chair of the CS department. He became director of the Cebrowski Institute (2003), chair-elect of the faculty council (2007), and distinguished professor (2007).

Education. Throughout his career, Denning has been noted for leadership in computer science education, where he successfully advocated that operating systems principles be part of the core curriculum (1972), led a successful movement for recognition of experimental computer science (1980), co-founded the first computing community research network (1981), organized a new framework for the computing core curriculum (1989), proposed reforms to engineering education (1992), sought recognition of information technology as a profession (1998), designed model curricula for IT degree programs (2000), and initiated a movement to collect and record the great principles of computing (2003). At GMU he was named one of the top 10 teachers for 2001; he received a GMU Teaching Excellence Award in 2002 and was named Outstanding Teacher in the IT&E School in the same year. In January 2003, the Commonwealth of Virginia honored him as one of the ten best teachers in the state. He was selected as one of NSF's two Distinguished Education Fellows (2007) and leads an NSF project to stimulate more innovation in computing education.

Research. Denning was a pioneer in the early development of operating systems. As noted, he invented the working set model for program behavior (1967), established a solid science basis for virtual memory (1970), and demonstrated the optimality of working set memory management (1980); these works put the terms working set, locality, and thrashing into the standard lexicon of computer science. He designed computer architectures that supported operating systems (1978). He also pioneered in the development of performance models for computer systems and (with Jeff Buzen) co-developed important extensions of operational analysis of queueing networks (1975-80). While director of RIACS (1983-91) he formed interdisciplinary teams in comutational science and high performance computing. At George Mason (1991-2002) he pioneered in distance learning technologies, started the innovation project, and formed Sense 21, an alumni group of his language-action based design courses.

Profession. Denning has served continuously as a volunteer for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) since 1967. He edited the SICTIME newsletter in 1967 and led the conversion of SICTIME to SIGOPS as its chair in 1969. He was founding chair of the SIG Board (1970-74). He was president 1980-82 and vice president 1978-80. As chair of the ACM publications board 1992-98 he led the development of the ACM Digital Library, now regarded as ACM's crown jewel. As Editor-in-Chief of the monthly ACM Communications (1983-92), he led its transition from research journal to award-winning magazine. He chaired the ACM Information Technology Profession Initiative (1999-2001). He chaired the ACM Education Board (2000-04); the board produced Curriculum 2001, a major curriculum revision compatible with other IT disciplines. In 2003 he started the Great Principles of Computing project, which aims to develop a common scientific language for discussing information process among scientific fields (see the project web site).

Defense and Security. At the NPS, Denning led the Cebrowski Institute into research on the architecture of battlespace communication systems, culminating in the organization of a World Wide Consortium for the Grid (W2COG), which gave DoD a means of incubating new networking technologies and reaching engineering consensus on technical issues of future DoD networks. He also founded the Hastily Formed Networks Project, which studies and tests networks formed during crises or urgent events to coordinate many organizations in disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and military operations. He initiated the Innovation Project, which is devoted to understanding and teaching innovation as a skill based on seven personal foundational practices. He initiated a project on global security and network science, which is using network science as the basis to develop new approaches to avoiding conflicts and crises. He initiated a departmental version of the Great Principles of Computing Project, and developed a course on the subject.

Publications. Denning has published 8 books and 315 articles on computers, networks, and their operating systems. His three most recent books, The Invisible Future (2001), Talking Back to the Machine (1999), and Beyond Calculation (1997) examine the next fifty years of computing. He created on on-line book The Art of Operating Systems (2002), which is about elegant models for the major components of operating systems (click here). He is working on two more books: Innovation : The 7 Foundational Practices (with Bob Dunham) is about the skill of generating innovations; and Great Principles of Computing is about the fundamental principles of the computing field.

Awards and Honors. Denning has received 24 awards for professional and technical contributions since 1959 (click here). He was elected Distinguished Professor at NPS in 2007.

Contact Information. Denning is on the faculty of the Naval Postgraduate School and is a research affiliate with the GMU E-Center for E-Business. You can contact him at or 831-656-3603.