PDL People - Distinguished Alumni

2023: Niraj Tolia

Niraj Tolia is the co-founder and CEO at Alcion, a startup working at the intersection of AI, data management, and security. Previously he was the co-founder and CEO at Kasten, the leading and award-winning Kubernetes backup company that was acquired by Veeam in 2020. Post-acquisition, he continued, as General Manager and President of the Kasten by Veeam business unit, to accelerate the growth of Veeam’s cloud-native business. With a strong technical background in distributed systems, storage, and data management, he previously held leadership roles, including Senior Director of Engineering at Dell EMC and VP of Engineering and Chief Architect at Maginatics (acquired by EMC).

Dr. Tolia received his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, where he was a part of the Parallel Data Lab. His research concentrated on distributed storage systems with an emphasis on deduplication and wide-area network data transfer. He also received an MS degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a BS degree, with University and College Honors, in Electrical and Computer Engineering with an additional major in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University.

Read the CyLab press release about Niraj's induction as a member of the PDL Distinguished Alumni.


Since joining Google in 2011, Danner has built, led, and scaled various teams across multiple Google organizations, including TI Network, YouTube, and Google Cloud Platform, where he is currently a VP of Engineering. Recent published work includes "Warehouse-scale video acceleration: co-design and deployment in the wild."

Danner grew up in Chicago and then obtained a BS in Chemistry and MS in Mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University. From 1990-95, Danner was in CMU School of Computer Science PhD program, where he worked on operating systems and storage and was one of the founding students in the Parallel Data Lab. He left grad school all-but-dissertation to help found Lycos, one of the early search engines, then moved to Silicon Valley and worked on enterprise search (Verity), smart hard drives (Quantum), and content delivery networks. Danner eventually moved to Boston with Akamai Technologies. Outside of work, Danner enjoys woodworking, reading, and time with his spouse and two daughters.



Bianca is an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in the Computer Science Department at the University of Toronto and a member of the computer systems and networks group. Before joining U of T, she spent 2 years as a post-doc at Carnegie Mellon University working with Garth Gibson. She received her doctorate from the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University under the direction of Mor Harchol-Balter. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, the recipient of the Outstanding Young Canadian Computer Science Prize of the Canadian Association for Computer Science, an Ontario Early Researcher Award, an NSERC Accelerator Award, a two-time winner of the IBM PhD fellowship and her work has won four best paper awards and one best presentation award. She has served on numerous program committees and has co-chaired the TPCs of Usenix FAST'14, ACM Sigmetrics'14 and IEEE NAS'11. Her work on hard drive reliability and her work on DRAM reliability have been featured in articles at a number of news sites, including Computerworld, Wired, Slashdot, PCWorld, StorageMojo and eWEEK. Bianca's research focuses on the design and implementation of computer systems, especially large-scale systems, storage systems and data centers. Her current interests mostly evolve around system reliability and energy efficiency.


Erik Riedel, Ph.D. is Senior Director of Technology & Architecture in the Cloud Infrastructure Group at EMC in Cambridge, MA. The group is working to build cloud storage technology for deployment in private and public clouds. Focus areas include scalability, robustness, metadata-informed policy, multi-tenancy and security. Erik is a member of the SNIA Technical Council, helping to lead industry-wide education, technology promotion and standardization efforts.

Before joining EMC, Erik was Director of Interfaces & Architecture at Seagate Research in Pittsburgh, PA. The group he founded and led focussed on novel storage devices and systems with increased intelligence to optimize performance, improve security, improve reliability, and enable smarter organization of data. The technology targetted both large-scale enterprise storage clusters and ad-hoc collections of consumer and mobile storage devices working together. Previously, Erik was a researcher in the storage program at Hewlett-Packard Labs in Palo Alto, CA. He has authored and co-authored eleven granted patents and a number of pending patent applications, as well as numerous technical publications on a range of storage-related topics.

Erik holds B.S., M.S.E. and Ph.D. degrees from Carnegie Mellon University. His thesis work was on Active Disks as an extension to Network-Attached Secure Disks (NASD).


Howard Gobioff received his Ph.D. in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in 1999. He was advised by Garth Gibson and Doug Tygar and was a key member of the CMU Parallel Data Lab. Howard's research interests were focused on large scale distributed systems, operating systems, and security. Before entering graduate school, Howard received a bachelor of science degree in computer science and mathematics from University of Maryland, College Park.

He joined Google when it was a 40-person startup, and became a key architect of the Google file system. Howard was involved in a variety of core Google projects, including the advertising system and the main crawling/indexing system. Howard believed Google is a company that could enable a simple computer scientist to fundamentally change the world by improving people's access to information.

Always fascinated with Japan and Japanese culture, in 2004 he launched Google’s Tokyo R&D center. Following that adventure, he decided to try a smaller city and relocated to Google's Manhattan office. Howard was always an active and loyal alumnus, visiting CMU every year to meet up with old friends, give lectures, and recruit people to join Google.


Hugo Patterson joined Data Domain in March 2002 and served as Chief Architect through December 2008 when his title was changed to Chief Technology Officer. From November 1999 to March 2002, he was the lead architect for data availability and management at NetApp, a provider of storage and data management solutions.

Hugo holds a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Chicago, and an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland. Hugo received his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University where he was a charter student in the PDL. He was advised by Garth Gibson and his Ph.D. research focused on informed prefetching and caching.