Keywords: [ Semidefinite programming ] [ Burer-Monteiro ] [ Low rank factorization ]

Abstract:
The Burer-Monteiro method is one of the most widely used techniques for solving large-scale semidefinite programs (SDP). The basic idea is to solve a nonconvex program in $Y$, where $Y$ is an $n \times p$ matrix such that $X = Y Y^T$. We show that this method can solve SDPs in polynomial time in a smoothed analysis setting. More precisely, we consider an SDP whose domain satisfies some compactness and smoothness assumptions, and slightly perturb the cost matrix and the constraints. We show that if $p \gtrsim \sqrt{2(1{+}\eta)m}$, where $m$ is the number of constraints and $\eta>0$ is any fixed constant, then the Burer-Monteiro method can solve SDPs to any desired accuracy in polynomial time, in the setting of smooth analysis. The bound on $p$ approaches the celebrated Barvinok-Pataki bound in the limit as $\eta$ goes to zero, beneath which it the nonconvex program can be suboptimal. Our main technical contribution, which is key for our tight bound on $p$, is to connect spurious approximately critical points of the nonconvex program to tubular neighborhoods of certain algebraic varieties, and then estimate the volume of such tubes.

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