Sampling and cost-sharing: Approximation algorithms for stochastic optimization problems

Anupam Gupta, Martin Pál, R. Ravi, Amitabh Sinha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We consider two- and multistage versions of stochastic combinatorial optimization problems with recourse: in this framework, the instance for the combinatorial optimization problem is drawn from a known probability distribution p and is only revealed to the algorithm over two (or multiple) stages. At each stage, on receiving some more information about the instance, the algorithm is allowed to build some partial solution. Since the costs of elements increase with each passing stage, there is a natural tension between waiting for later stages, to gain more information about the instance, and purchasing elements in earlier stages, to take advantages of lower costs. We provide approximation algorithms for stochastic combinatorial optimization problems (such as the Steiner tree problem, the Steiner network problem, and the vertex cover problem) by means of a simple sampling-based algorithm. In every stage, our algorithm samples the probability distribution of the requirements and constructs a partial solution to serve the resulting sample. We show that if one can construct cost-sharing functions associated with the algorithms used to construct these partial solutions, then this strategy results in provable approximation guarantees for the overall stochastic optimization problem. We also extend this approach to provide an approximation algorithm for the stochastic version of the uncapacitated facility location problem, a problem that does not fit into the simpler framework of our main model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1361-1401
Number of pages41
JournalSIAM Journal on Computing
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011


  • Approximation algorithms
  • Combinatorial optimization
  • Cost-sharing functions
  • Stochastic optimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • General Mathematics


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