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  1. This work considers the minimization of a general convex function f (X) over the cone of positive semi-definite matrices whose optimal solution X* is of low-rank. Standard first-order convex solvers require performing an eigenvalue decomposition in each iteration, severely limiting their scalability. A natural nonconvex reformulation of the problem factors the variable X into the product of a rectangular matrix with fewer columns and its transpose. For a special class of matrix sensing and completion problems with quadratic objective functions, local search algorithms applied to the factored problem have been shown to be much more efficient and, in spite of being nonconvex, to converge to the global optimum. The purpose of this work is to extend this line of study to general convex objective functions f (X) and investigate the geometry of the resulting factored formulations. Specifically, we prove that when f (X) satisfies the restricted well-conditioned assumption, each critical point of the factored problem either corresponds to the optimal solution X* or a strict saddle where the Hessian matrix has a strictly negative eigenvalue. Such a geometric structure of the factored formulation ensures that many local search algorithms can converge to the global optimum with random initializations. 
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  2. This paper considers the minimization of a general objective function f (X) over the set of non-square n × m matrices where the optimal solution X* is low-rank. To reduce the computational burden, we factorize the variable X into a product of two smaller matrices and optimize over these two matrices instead of X. We analyze the global geometry for a general and yet well-conditioned objective function f (X) whose restricted strong convexity and restricted strong smoothness constants are comparable. In particular, we show that the reformulated objective function has no spurious local minima and obeys the strict saddle property. These geometric properties imply that a number of iterative optimization algorithms (such as gradient descent) can provably solve the factored problem with global convergence. 
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