The digital revolution is increasing the power, scope and importance of computer systems at a rapid pace. Software-enabled systems are everywhere, with Distributed and Networked Systems underpinning the economy, society and infrastructure. Study Distributed and Networked Systems at Royal Holloway and you’ll gain detailed knowledge and of the principles, methods and techniques required for developing systems including sensor and actuator networks, cyber-physical systems, patient-centred healthcare and disaster recovery systems.
This course is aimed at graduates who already have a background in computer science or engineering and who wish to acquire the depth of knowledge and the skills required to help design, deploy and use the technologies through which systems can operate in networks and in a distributed way. You will be able to tailor your degree according to your interests, with optional modules available in cybersecurity, large-scale data storage and processing, and artificial intelligence.
Skills that you will acquire include the ability to:
- analyse complex distributed systems in terms of their performance, reliability, and correctness
- design and implement middleware services for reliable communication in unreliable networks
- design and implement reliable data communication and storage solutions for wireless, sensor, and ad-hoc networks
- work with open source and cloud tools for scalable data storage (DynamoDB) and coordination (Zookeeper)
- design custom-built application-driven networking topologies
- work with modern network management technologies (Software-Defined Networking) and standards (OpenFlow)
- work with relational databases (SQL), NoSQL databases (MongoDb), as well as with Hadoop/Pig scripting
- work with low-power wireless and mesh networking standards and technologies, such as IEEE 802.15.4, ZigBee and XBee
- work with state-of-the-art microcontroller devices and kits, such as Arduino and Tessel, and miniature computing technologies, such as RaspberryPi
You will be taught by world-leading academics. We carry out research in all aspects of distributed computing and systems – including design and analysis of algorithms, large-scale and cloud-based systems, fault-tolerance, distributed storage, cloud computing, peer-to-peer, concurrency control, and multi-core computing – and in artificial intelligence, including cognitive and autonomous agents, automated planning, scheduling and domain-independent search control, and applications in surveillance operations, disaster response missions, space operations.
The skills you’ll develop as a student of Distributed and Networked Systems will make you a highly employable candidate in a number of different fields. You’ll graduate in a strong position to progress to PhD study, while Royal Holloway’s proximity to the M4 corridor – also known as ‘England’s Silicon Valley’ – offers excellent opportunities to enjoy a rewarding year in industry with one of the country's top tech organisations.
- Benefit from strong industry ties, with close proximity to ‘England’s Silicon Valley’.
- Graduate with a Master's degree with excellent graduate employability prospects.
- Tailor your learning with a wide range of engaging optional modules.
In this module you will learn about the applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) in society, the components of typical IoT systems and the trends for the future. You will be exposed to IoT design considerations, constraints and interfacing between the physical world and IoT devices. You will develop an understanding of the Arduino platform and how it works in terms of the physical board, the libraries and the IDE (integrated development environment). You will learn how to program the Arduino via C/C++ code and how to access the pins on the board via the software to control external devices. Finally, you will gain hands-on experience in plugging shields into the main Arduino board to perform other functions such as sensing and actuating.
Advanced Distributed Systems
The module covers the fundamental principles of building modern distributed systems, for example in the context of the Internet of Things (IoT), focussing, in particular, on two central components of the IoT reference architecture-cloud infrastructure and wireless networking. The module will discuss major challenges found in these environments (such as massive scales, wide distribution, decentralisation, unreliable communication links, component failures and network partitions) and general approaches for dealing with these. Topics covered will include abstract models (such as the synchronous and asynchronous distributed computing models, models for wireless networks); algorithmic techniques (such as distributed coordination, the fault-tolerant design of distributed algorithms, synchronization techniques); and practical case studies. You will also have an opportunity to implement various components of a realistic distributed system through a series of formative coursework assignments, lab practicals, and a final project.
Wireless Sensor and Actuator Networks
This module combines lectures focussing on the algorithms and the protocols behind wireless sensor and actuator networks (WSANs) with lab classes that focus on how to build wireless sensor and actuator networks for a variety of applications. You will learn about the critical design factors for WSANs, the protocol stack, models and algorithms for WSANs, routing protocols and more advanced open research problems, such as topology control and mobility. The practical classes will cover how to design and build wireless sensor networks and intelligent interactive devices with the ZigBee wireless networking protocol.
- Individual Project (IoT/DNS)
Introduction to Information Security
In this module you will develop an understanding of how information security may be influenced by real-world design and implementation decisions. You will look at the different cryptographic algorithms, their use, advantages and disadvantages. You will examine cryptographic primitives in the review and evaluation of cryptographic protocols and consider the rational decisions in the design of number tokens and secure elements.
This module covers algorithm-independent machine learning; unsupervised learning and clustering; exploratory data analysis; Bayesian methods; Bayes networks and causality; and applications, such as information retrieval and natural language processing. You will develop skills in data analysis, including data mining and statistics.
Visualisation and Exploratory Analysis
In this module you will develop an understanding of the principles of statistical visualisation and open-ended exploratory analysis of data. You will look at the construction of linear projections of multivariate data and non-linear dimensions reduction methods. You will gain practical experience in using standard graph visualisation methods and evaluating results, and consider how to avoid data snooping. You will also critically evaluate choices in representational mode, glyph design, and colour design for presentation graphics
Computation with Data
In this module you will develop an understanding of the basics of algorithmic thinking and problem solving using programming. You will become familiar with using the Java programming language, examining particular features and constructs as well as basics of object-oriented programming. You will use these to solve specific algorithmic tasks and evaluate programming solutions.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the fundamental concepts and standards of the semantic web. You will look at the notions, concepts, technologies and modelling techniques that constitute the semantic web, including standards such as RDF, RDFS and OWL. You will examine the underlying logical theory behind the semantic web, such as description logic, and consider how semantics can be used in new, more effective and intelligent ways to manage information and support applications.
Intelligent Agents and Multi-Agent Systems
In this module you will develop an understanding of the notion of an agent, and how agents are distinct from other software paradigms. You will analyse the characteristics of applications that lend themselves to an agent-oriented solution and consider the key issues associated with constructing agents capable of intelligent autonomous action. You will look at the key issues in designing societies of agents that can effectively cooperate in order to solve problems and evaluate the key types of multi-agent interactions possible in such systems. You will also examine the main application areas of agent-based solutions, developing a meaningful agent-based system using a contemporary agent development platform.
Advanced Data Communications
In this module you will develop an understanding of how modern multimedia communication work. You will look at the methods used for coding text, images, audio and video transfer over networking infrastructures, including layering, abstraction and the internet reference model. You will examine the use of compression, applications and standards, and quality of service requirements and consider internet technologies such as IP addressing, routing algorithms, and routing protocols such as RIP and OSPF.
In this module you will develop an understanding of modern machine learning techniques and gain practical experience in developing machine learning systems. You will look at the main advantages and limitations of the various approaches to machine learning and examine the features of specific machine-learning algorithms. You will also consider how the ideas and algorithms of machine learning can be applied in other fields, including medicine and industry.
Large-scale Data Storage and Processing
In this module you will develop an understanding of the underlying principles of large-scale data storage and processing frameworks. You will look at the opportunities and challenges of building massive scale analytics solutions, gaining hands-on experience in using large and unstructured data sets for analysis and prediction. You will examine the techniques and paradigms for querying and processing massive data sets, such as MapReduce, Hadoop, data warehousing, SQL for data analytics, and stream processing. You will consider the fundamentals of scalable data storage, including NoSQL databases, and will design, develop, and evaluate an end-to -nd analytics solution combining large-scale data storage and processing frameworks.
On-line Machine Learning
In this module you will develop an understanding of the on-line framework of machine learning for issuing predictions or decisions in real-time. You will learn about protocols, methods and applications of on-line learning, covering probabilistic models based on Markov chains and their applications, such as PageRank and Markov Chain Monte-Carlo. You will examine the time series models, exploring their connections with Kalman filters, and learning models based on the prequential paradigm, including prediction with expert advice, aggregating algorithm, sleeping and switching experts. You will also consider universal algorithms, their application to portfolio theory, and how prediction within a confidence framework is achieved.
The module is concerned with the protection of data transferred over digital networks, including computer and telecommunications networks. We review networking concepts, particularly the concepts of services and protocols, and study how services are incorporated in network communications by specifying protocols. We extend the discussion of services to address security concerns, considering how cryptographic primitives may be used to provide confidentiality, integrity and authentication services. We illustrate these concepts by considering case studies, including WEP/WPA/WPA2, GSM and UMTS, IPsec and SSL/TLS. We also study non-cryptographic countermeasures, including packet-filtering and intrusion detection.
Computer Security (Operating Systems)
In this module you will develop an understanding of the role of security mechanisms for modern computer systems, including both hardware and software. You will look at the mechanisms that are used to implement security policies, considering core concepts such as security models, subjects and objects, authorisation and access rights. You will examine the use and operation of a range of access and control methods and authentication mechanisms, such as tokens an biometrics. You will also and evaluate the main issues relating to software security and their effect on the security of computer systems, in particular, the practical implementation of access control.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the construction of information networks, specifically the architecture and operation of the internet protocol suite. You will look at the construction of a modern computer system, considering hardware and software components which support multiprocessing. You will examine the causes and potential effects of vulnerabilities that affect computer systems and identify appropriate countermeasures, including user authentication and access control mechanisms. You will evaluate authentication and key exchange protocols, such as how SSL and TLS are applied to the internet, and analyse the key security threats faced in network environments.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the common approaches and methodologies used for carrying out and managing security and penetration testing, including legal requirements for such audits. You will look at network protocols, relevant computer system architectures, and web application systems, considering their vulnerabilities, common forms of attack, and security technologies designed to mitigate these. You will gain practical experience of exploiting vulnerabilities to penetrate a system, learning how to design secure systems and defend them against intrusion.
Smart Cards, RFIDs and Embedded Systems Security
In this module you will develop an understanding of the applications of smart cards and security tokens and their use as assets in cyber security. You will look at the constituent components of common systems, analysing strengths and weaknesses in their manufacture and potential risks and security safeguards. You will consider the range of campabilities of SIM cards in smartphones and the main standards and applications of smarts cards for banking and finance. You will also examine the role of embedded smart card and RFID technology for passports, identity cards, and satellite TV, and the security measures that have protected past and current cards.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the importance of security in the development of applications. You will look at poor programming practices and how they can be exploited, leading to catastrophic security breaches. You will consider the threat posed by malicious software and examine some of the newer research trends that are likely to influence software security work in the coming years.
Introduction to Cryptography and Security Mechanisms
In this module you will develop an understanding of the uses of cryptography. You will look at the basic cryptographic mechanisms used to provide core security services and examine differences between them, identifying situations in which they are most usefully employed. You will consider the issues that need to be addressed to secure an application, and evaluate the limitations of cryptography and methods for supporting it within a full security architecture.
Teaching & assessment
Assessment is carried out by a variety of methods including coursework, examinations and a dissertation. The placement is assessed as part of your degree.
Computer Science, Economics, Mathematics, Physics, or other subjects that include a strong element of both mathematics and computing.
International & EU requirements
English language requirements
All teaching at Royal Holloway is in English. You will therefore need to have good enough written and spoken English to cope with your studies right from the start.
The scores we require
- IELTS: 6.5 overall. No subscore lower than 5.5.
- Pearson Test of English: 61 overall. Writing 54. No subscore lower than 51.
- Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE): ISE III.
For more information about country-specific entry requirements for your country please see here. For international students who do not meet the direct entry requirements, we offer a Pre-Master’s Diploma for International Students (PDIS), a one-year full-time programme that will prepare you for postgraduate study in the UK. For more information please see here.
Your future career
Graduates in Distributed and Networked Systems with a Year in Industry at Royal Holloway can expect excellent employability prospects in a variety of expanding fields. You’ll gain a desirable Masters qualification from a highly-regarded department, and develop a range of transferable skills to take into the workplace.
You’ll develop a range of highly sought-after transferable skills, while our proximity to the M4 corridor technology hub – also known as ‘England’s Silicon Valley’ – will provide you with excellent placement and networking opportunities to pave the way for a rewarding future career. Our recent graduates have gone on to enjoy roles at organisations such as British Aerospace, Microsoft, Amazon, and American Express.
- Strong industry ties help to provide placement and networking opportunities with some of the country’s leading institutions.
- Together with our on-site Careers and Employability Service, we run one-to-one coaching sessions and workshops, helping you to find a placement or job and lead a successful career.
Fees & funding
Home and EU students tuition fee per year*: £10400
International students tuition fee per year**: £19000
Other essential costs***: There are no single associated costs greater than £50 per item on this course.
Scholarships for international students
A scholarship of £2,000 will be automatically provided (and deducted from the fees payable) for international students holding the equivalent of a UK first-class honours undergraduate degree.
* and ** These tuition fees apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis. Students studying part-time are charged a pro-rata tuition fee, usually equivalent to approximately half the full-time fee. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on part-time fees. All postgraduate fees are subject to inflationary increases. Royal Holloway's policy is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see tuition fees and our terms and conditions.
*** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing, have not been included.