Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems

Become an expert of the many-core age

Experimental computer science - New solutions for globally distributed systems

Our Top Master's program in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems was founded by prof. Andrew S. Tanenbaum and is designed to challenge students with the hardest problems in modern systems-oriented computer science. The program is selective and aims at talented students interested in systems research.
After having completed this master, many students move on to pursue a PhD program in top research schools or join R&D labs in the industry.

In the last years, computing architectures have evolved in order to meet the challenges of new use cases (e.g. Big Data, Cloud Computing, Security & Privacy, etc.). The Internet is now constituted by cloud computing centres, smartphones, RFID tags, and sensor networks. This connected world brings new opportunities to science and business, but also new challenges to security and privacy. The students will study entirely new software architectures and large-scale, geographically distributed systems which can serve billions of users. Scalability, performance and security are key topics of this Master.

Like in the previous years, also in 2016 the Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems program has been awarded the label "Top Master" in the 'Keuzegids 2016'
of C.H.O.I. (Higher education information centre). The decision of granting this award is based on the ratings given by experts and students to the quality of the program.

Experimental computer science research

This Master focuses on empirical computer science, featuring many software lab courses designed to teach methodologies to solve challenging research problems.
Often, students will have to design, implement and evaluate the properties of complex systems. The students typically work in small teams in order to learn collaborative research skills which are the norm in the industry. Courses include Parallel Programming, Distributed Systems, Web Data Processing Systems, Kernel Programming and Computer and Network Security.

The curriculum requires that you take compulsory subjects worth 32 ECTS and optional subjects worth 27 ECTS. The emphasis shifts gradually from classroom lectures to independent and research-oriented study with practical work, seminars and the identification of open research questions. 

Compulsory subjects include:

  • Distributed Systems
  • Parallel Programming
  • Computer & Network Security


In Distributed Systems you will learn about the development of middleware systems for large-scale computer networks. Parallel Programming teaches you how to reduce execution time by writing programs that run in parallel on a large number of processors. Computer & Network Security is a wide-ranging course on security. 

The final semester is dedicated to the Master’s thesis, which usually involves conducting research together with a member of the academic staff. 

The entire programme is taught in English, and your fellow students come from all over the world. Upon successful completion of the programme, you will be awarded the title Master of Science (MSc). 

The Master's in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems is a two-year programme that strikes an effective balance between classroom and applied work. About one third of the first three semesters is devoted to practical projects.

For detailed information on courses and timetables, click on the following links:

Course Schedule

You will find the schedule for the PDCS master by selecting 'Groep' and then selecting mPDCS (FEW) in the scrolling menu 

Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems courses in the study guide.

PDCS is a research Master’s, which means that most of our students are preparing for a career in academic or industrial research. Many of our graduates continue their studies by obtaining a PhD research position at a top university. Others join industrial research laboratories. The PDCS programme is also an excellent preparation for students who are considering a different career path. For example, some students may want to join high-tech companies where their specific skills are needed for the execution of innovative projects. Others will be snapped up by firms looking for the ideal combination of engineering skills and creative problem-solving abilities. Some graduates have an entrepreneurial drive and start their own companies. 

Graduates in demand 
High-quality PhD candidates are in very short supply at virtually all university Computer Science departments in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Students who complete this Master's programme in PDCS are ideally suited to pursue a PhD in Computer Systems at many universities around the world. Well-qualified graduates in this field are also in great demand in industry.

  • PDCS emphasizes experimental computer science rather than theory  
  • PDCS involves the design, implementation, testing and performance analysis of complex systems software 
  • The curriculum includes many software lab courses, which are aimed at training you to carry out scientific software experiments that solve challenging research problems  
  • For some projects, you will cooperate in small teams to train you in collaborative research 
  • The programme aims to prepare you specifically for research work at commercial or government laboratories, or for a PhD study at a university  
  • PDCS is unique in the Netherlands and one of the few of its kind in the world. It is organized mainly by the Computer Systems Group at VU University Amsterdam, which enjoys an outstanding international reputation in both research and education

PDCS is an excellent master

Keuzegids Masters 2010 proofs: PDCS is an excellent Masters programme and one of the best in the Netherlands.

Automatiseringsgids 

An outstanding group

The teaching staff is headed by Professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum, a 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. The Master’s programme in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems is primarily a product of the Computer Systems Group at VU University Amsterdam, which enjoys an outstanding international reputation in both research and education. Our staff are world-class scientists in operating systems and computer networks, in distributed systems and grid computing, as well as in the security aspects of all these systems. The textbooks they have written are used at universities all around the world. 

Mentor-based system

Each student is assigned a member of staff as their mentor for the entire programme. Applied work is closely supervised by one of the PDCS staff, as are all individual projects, including the Master’s project.

Research

For more information on research projects, go to the site of the Computer Science Department.

Publications

For more information on publications, go to the site of the Computer Science Department.

If you would like to know more

Meet us?  
Contact the programme coordinator  
Order the brochure

Overview Parallel & Distributed Computer Systems

Language of instruction

English

Duration

2 years

Tuition fee

Application deadline

1 June for Dutch students. 1 April for EU/EEA and non-EU/EEA students.* * EU/EEA students with an international degree who do not need housing services through Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam University Amsterdam can still apply until 1 June.

Start date

1 September

Study type

Full-time

Admission requirements

Field of Interest

Computer Science, Mathematics and Business

Self-organizing large-scale distributed systems 
One of the challenges of today is to develop large-scale distributed systems consisting of (hundreds of) thousands of nodes. To this end, fully decentralized solutions for systems management are a must. PDCS staff members are developing solutions to let very large networks of sensor nodes self-organize into hierarchies suitable for routing and data aggregation, even while the network continues to change. Similarly, solutions are sought and developed for automatically partitioning, distributing, and replicating data across the Web. As PDCS student, you can actively participate in this research. 

Clouds: next-generation grid computers 
Cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular as a means to execute large, parallel programs on a collection of computers organized into a grid. Researchers in the Computer Systems group have teamed up in an international collaboration to build a system that will allow thousands of grid computers spread across the Internet to be shared by users all over the world. This system requires that we look into (network) security, scalability, operating systems, support for parallel programming, Internetwide search facilities, systems management, resource reservation, and much more. As PDCS student, you will be able to dive into the research that is needed to come up with workable solutions for these problems.


You can find more information on student placements and research projects at the Internship Office for Mathematics and Computer Science at the following link: http://wiki.cs.vu.nl/mp/index.php/Parallel_and_Distributed_Computer_Systems_Master.

What is the application fee? 
See section Application fee procedure
                 
How does this Master's differ from regular standard Master's? 
First, this Master's is more specialized than the standard programme. It focuses entirely on computer systems. The standard Master’s includes other areas such as systems, AI, software engineering and theory. Second, this Master's selects only the best students, whereas the standard programme is required by law to accept everyone who meets the formal entrance requirements. We believe that this creates a better motivated student body, more interesting classes and greater intellectual stimulation. Third, this Master's is highly international. We expect to attract students from the world’s leading universities. 

What is the required TOEFL or IELTS score? 
For TOEFL we require a score of 580 or 237 on the computer-based test. For IELTS applicants need a score of 6.5.  

What are the typical monthly expenses for board and lodging? 
You can expect to pay between 1,000 and 1,200 euros a month. 

Do I need my own computer? 
No. There are a large number of computers on the university premises reserved specifically for student use.

Student experiences

“I joined the Master’s programme in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems after finishing my Bachelor’s degree. From the very beginning, the lectures I attended at VU University Amsterdam helped me to see the details as well as the big picture. And that after just two courses! 
Freedom of choice is the key at VU University Amsterdam. In addition to taking a small number of core courses in the PDCS programme, you can choose subjects from a wide range of relevant courses that best match your own interests. What was it that attracted me to this programme? Besides my own keen interest in PDCS, it was the teaching staff, the research groups, and the great resources that did it for me. And – as I later discovered – the people at the university.” 
Ana-Maria Oprescu

foto_ben_van_werkhoven"I was a PDCS student at VU University Amsterdam. Currently, I am a PhD Student in the Computer Systems Group at the VU University Amsterdam. My research interests include high performance distributed computing on large collections of multi and many-core processors in clusters, grids and/or clouds - with the main focus on developing high-level programming models for such platforms. I really like the fact that the master focuses on experimental computer science. Sometimes in computer science you can not accurately predict the effects of the changes you make to a certain algorithm, for example, because the behavior of certain hardware features have not been publicly released by the manufacturer. In such cases you need to verify the behavior of your algorithms experimentally. This is exactly the kind of practical approach to solving problems that I like.  
The PDCS masters is also a very international masters program, with students from all over the world. In fact, I was the only Dutch student in my year. Together with a mix of good theoretical, practical and research oriented courses, I think the PDCS program is a great preparation for students who consider pursuing a PhD after their masters." 
Ben van Werkhoven

Alumni careers

Andrei Agapi (Romania), PhD student at VU Amsterdam

Alumni_Andrei-Agapi"I finished the PDCS program in 2006. I can warmly recommend this program to everybody, since I feel it has consistently contributed to my development as a CS researcher. One of the main assets of this program, besides the very interesting course curriculum, is the research-oriented approach it takes. We got the opportunity to take interactive and exciting literature study and discussion courses, given by the renowned faculty, as well as research proposal courses during which we were encouraged to develop critical thinking skills, priceless for any researcher, as well as identify important problems and come up with original solutions to them. 

Since graduation, I have been a Ph.D. student at VU and my research focus has mainly been the Internet and ways to enhance the QoS that it offers, by exploiting various inherent features, such as network parallelism and existing routing policies."


Nick Palmer, PhD student at VU Amsterdam

"I came to the PDCS Masters program because I wanted to learn to do research in computer science in the hope of continuing on to a PhD. I never expected to stay in Europe, but I enjoyed the classes and working with the faculty so much, not to mention living in Amsterdam, that I have continued on for a PhD at VU University Amsterdam. The program taught me not only about distributed systems but also about how to do scientific research. The skills I learned have helped me in my current research into using smart phones for distributed disaster management systems."

Upali Wickramasinghe Rajapaksa (Sri Lanka), PhD student at RMIT (Australia) 

Alumni_Upali-Wickramasinghe-Rajapaksa

"I finished my bachelor’s degree with a project on parallel computing. During the time of the project I found the field to be very interesting. Then, I became aware about a new masters course in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems at VU. This was exactly the course I was looking for! The PDCS course is a complete dose of scientific computing because of the course units, researchers in the field and resources. Currently I’m following a PhD program in Australia. The PDCS program has contributed immensely to my current research work because the program gave me a proper and methodical training to carry out research. These are in setting up experiments, collecting and analysing data in a comprehensive manner and presenting the findings. This training was invaluable for proper research in Computer Science."

Chen Zhang (PR of China), PhD student at University of Waterloo (Canada)

"PDCS courses and personalized research involvement provided me with abundant fundamental knowledge, hands-on skills, and most importantly, the zeal to carry on PhD level research on parallel and distributed computing area. I'm now doing PhD and just on the edge of finalizing the proposal for my own PhD thesis project. It wouldn't be possible, if not because of PDCS training, that I could have the horizon to systematically come up with such creative ideas with sufficient impact and feasibility as PhD project all by myself. I missed the days in VU very much and I recommend everyone interested in future generation network-integrated computing environments to enroll in PDCS master program!"

Dutch students

The PDCS programme is open to both Dutch and International Students and attracts excellent students from the field of Computer Science. Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application. 

In order to gain admission to the PDCS Master’s programme, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 ECTS or equivalent. Academic writing skill is to be demonstrated by submitting a thesis. We do not require a GRE or GMAT test score. A Bachelor degree obtained at an applied university or higher vocational education (HBO in Dutch) in most cases does not grant direct access to the programme (only exceptionally high ranking students stand a chance of admission).

Specific requirements for the PDCS master’s programme 

All students undergo a selection procedure to gain admission. Competition is tough as the programme is open to foreign students and is widely advertised abroad. You will be competing for a limited number of places with students from Europe, the US, India, China and elsewhere. Standards will be very high indeed. This is a specialized Master’s, consisting mainly of classes, practicals and projects in computer systems. A background in Computer Science and demonstrable knowledge of computer systems is required. Students preferring to take a wide-ranging Master’s are advised to opt for a standard programme such as Computer Science. In keeping with the programme’s international orientation, the application procedure is based on the system in such countries as the UK, the US and Canada. Students with a degree from a Dutch institution do not need to supply additional admission documents, since the level of education and status of Dutch universities is well known.

General language proficiency requirements 

VU University Amsterdam requires international applicants to take an English test and to submit their score as a part of the application. Exceptions are made for students who have completed their education in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand or Australia or who have obtained an international Baccalaureate or European Baccalaureate diploma.

Admission to a Master’s programme: the Bachelor-before-Master rule 

The Bachelor-before-Master rule is applied to all VU programmes. This means that you can only start a Master’s programme on 1 September if you have obtained your Bachelor’s degree. Uncompleted Bachelor’s subjects are not permitted if you want to start a Master programme. 

What does this mean now for students? - You may have to adjust your study plan. For example, if you’re planning a semester abroad in the first semester and you would like to start the following Master’s programme in September, please note that every part of the Bachelor’s study programme has to be completed – not only the compulsory parts of the programme. Other (short) interruptions of your study programme can also have an effect on your ability to proceed onto a Master’s programme. If the Bachelor’s programme is not fully completed, you cannot start the Master’s programme until the start of the next academic year. Take this into account when planning your study path! Please contact our faculty’s study advisors when you have any questions.

If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.

Step 1: Meet the admission criteria

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online

Dutch students or students with a Dutch University degree, please follow: Online application for students with a Dutch University degree 

Students with an international degree, please follow: Online application for students with an International University degree 

For International degree holders, digital scans of the following documents are required:

  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (only for EU residents)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • 2 Letters of recommendation
  • Letter of Motivation
  • Diploma(s) / statement of expected graduation
  • A transcript of the marks obtained during the Bachelor's programme.
  • Bachelor's or Master's thesis (written in English)
  • A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education
  • A list of all the main literature used during your previous higher education 
  • English language test 

Detailed descriptions of the required documents can be found here.

Step 3: Await decision on admission

The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam!

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!

Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. The conditions include sending a certified copy of your diploma and submitting the results of your English language test. Also, arrange payment of the tuition fees or authorize VU University to withdraw the fees (you need to have a European bank account for this option). Here you will find an explanation of the registration procedure and the relevant deadlines. When all conditions are met you will receive a confirmation of your registration and you will be ready to start your programme at VU University Amsterdam!

Further information about

Accommodation 
emptyVisa 
emptyTuition fees 
Scholarships 

Information about the programme

For further information you can contact the Director of Education:

dr. ing. Thilo Kielmann 
thilo.kielmann@vu.nl 
T +31 (0)20 598 7789

Practical information

Would you like to know more about our courses, scholarships and application & registration procedure? Please contact our International Office.

Email: admissionsfs@vu.nl

General information about VU Amsterdam

Please phone us at +31 (0)20 598 5000 (Monday – Friday, 10:00 to 12:00). You may also email us at study@vu.nl.

Would you like to read the key points of the Master's programme? Order the brochure. Or find out more about the Master's programmes and visit our information days.

International students

The PDCS programme is open to both Dutch and International Students and attracts excellent students from the field of Computer Science. Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application.

In order to gain admission to the PDCS Master’s programme, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 ECTS or equivalent. Academic writing skill is to be demonstrated by submitting a thesis. We do not require a GRE or GMAT test score. A Bachelor degree obtained at an applied university or higher vocational education (HBO in Dutch) in most cases does not grant direct access to the programme (only exceptionally high ranking students stand a chance of admission).

Specific requirements for the PDCS master’s programme 

All students undergo a selection procedure to gain admission. Competition is tough as the programme is open to foreign students and is widely advertised abroad. You will be competing for a limited number of places with students from Europe, the US, India, China and elsewhere. Standards will be very high indeed. This is a specialized Master’s, consisting mainly of classes, practicals and projects in computer systems. A background in Computer Science and demonstrable knowledge of computer systems is required. Students preferring to take a wide-ranging Master’s are advised to opt for a standard programme such as Computer Science. In keeping with the programme’s international orientation, the application procedure is based on the system in such countries as the UK, the US and Canada. Students with a degree from a Dutch institution do not need to supply additional admission documents, since the level of education and status of Dutch universities is well known.

General language proficiency requirements 

VU Amsterdam requires international applicants to take an English test and to submit their score as a part of the application. Exceptions are made for students who have completed their education in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand or Australia or who have obtained an international Baccalaureate or European Baccalaureate diploma.

Admission to a Master’s programme: the Bachelor-before-Master rule 

The Bachelor-before-Master rule is applied to all VU programmes. This means that you can only start a Master’s programme on 1 September if you have obtained your Bachelor’s degree. Uncompleted Bachelor’s subjects are not permitted if you want to start a Master programme. 

What does this mean now for students? - You may have to adjust your study plan. For example, if you’re planning a semester abroad in the first semester and you would like to start the following Master’s programme in September, please note that every part of the Bachelor’s study programme has to be completed – not only the compulsory parts of the programme. Other (short) interruptions of your study programme can also have an effect on your ability to proceed onto a Master’s programme. If the Bachelor’s programme is not fully completed, you cannot start the Master’s programme until the start of the next academic year. Take this into account when planning your study path! Please contact our faculty’s study advisors when you have any questions.


If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.

Step 1: Meet the admission criteria

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online

Dutch students or students with a Dutch University degree, please follow: Online application for students with a Dutch University degree 

Students with an international degree, please follow: Online application for students with an International University degree 

For International degree holders, digital scans of the following documents are required:

  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (only for EU residents)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • 2 Letters of recommendation
  • Letter of Motivation
  • Diploma(s) / statement of expected graduation
  • A transcript of the marks obtained during the Bachelor's programme.
  • Bachelor's or Master's thesis (written in English)
  • A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education
  • A list of all the main literature used during your previous higher education 
  • English language test 

Detailed descriptions of the required documents can be found here.

Step 3: Await decision on admission

The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam!

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!

Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. The conditions include sending a certified copy of your diploma and submitting the results of your English language test. Also, arrange payment of the tuition fees or authorize VU University to withdraw the fees (you need to have a European bank account for this option). Here you will find an explanation of the registration procedure and the relevant deadlines. When all conditions are met you will receive a confirmation of your registration and you will be ready to start your programme at VU University Amsterdam!

Further information about

Accommodation 
emptyVisa 
emptyTuition fees 
Scholarships

Contact for international degree students

For detailed questions about the Master’s programmes or the application procedure contact your International Student Advisor at the International Office: 

Central International Office  

International Student Advisor:  
Erik van Zwol  
Tel + 31 (0)20 598 7499   
admissionsfs@vu.nl

There are several possibilities for obtaining funding. VU University Amsterdam, the Dutch governement and other organisations offer scholarships, fellowships and grants

We offer a special programme for outstanding students from our partner universities that consists of one academic year of study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. During this year, you should obtain a total of 60 ECTS, including 36 ECTS for the master project. Application for this programme is possible if you have finished courses at the master's level at your home university for at least 60 ECTS that entitles you to exemptions for master's courses at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

  • Students from our partner university University Politehnica of Bucharest are encouraged to opt for this program through their contact person: Prof. Valentin Cristea
  • Students from our partner university Amrita University (India) are encouraged to opt for this program through their contact person:  Dr. Maneesha V Ramesh (director, Amrita center for international programs)

How and when to apply?

  • Please note that you can only apply for the Short Track Master programme if you are a student from one of the above mentioned partner universities!
  • Contact your coordinator to discuss your study plans. You need a formal approval from your coordinator that you are selected for the Short track Master (preferably before February 1st 2017). Your coordinator will inform us if you have been selected;
  • Apply online as described here. Please note that you will not find the option 'Short track master' in Studielink, so just select the regular master 'Parallel and Dirtributed Computer Systems'. The application deadline is 1st of April, however if you also would like to apply for VU Fellowship Programme (VUFP), you should send in both applications before 1st of February 2017!
  • You will have to upload a set of documents for your online application. In case of any questions about the requested documents, please contact admissionsfs@vu.nl. Please start your application, even if you cannot provide all documents. 

Fellowships 
A limited number of fellowships is available for (partial) funding of this programme. Please note that the application deadline for VU Fellowship Programme (VUFP) is 1 Feb. 2017 Students that would like to apply for VUFP, also have to apply for the short track master programme before 1 Feb. 2017!  

More information on the VU Fellowship Programme.

Admission and scholarship assignment  
The Examination Board of the Faculty of Sciences will decide which applicants will be admitted to the Short Track Master's programme in Parallel and Distributed Computer Systems. Requests for courses exemptions will be evaluated as well. Application results will be given to students within 4 weeks after completing the online application. The scholarship results are communicated around may 2017.

More information? 
For practical matters, like accommodation, living costs, financial aid, work, etc., please contact our International Office: admissionsfs@vu.nl

Information about the programme

For further information you can contact the Director of Education:

dr. ing. Thilo Kielmann 
thilo.kielmann@vu.nl 
T +31 (0)20 598 7789

Practical information

Would you like to know more about our courses, scholarships and application & registration procedure? Please contact our International Office.

Email: admissionsfs@vu.nl

General information about VU Amsterdam

Please phone us at +31 (0)20 598 5000 (Monday – Friday, 10:00 to 12:00). You may also email us at study@vu.nl.

Would you like to read the key points of the Master's programme? Order the brochure. Or find out more about the Master's programmes and visit our information days.