Thomas Pumir, Samy Jelassi, Nicolas Boumal
We consider semidefinite programs (SDPs) of size $n$ with equality constraints. In order to overcome scalability issues, Burer and Monteiro proposed a factorized approach based on optimizing over a matrix $Y$ of size $n\times k$ such that $X=YY^*$ is the SDP variable. The advantages of such formulation are twofold: the dimension of the optimization variable is reduced, and positive semidefiniteness is naturally enforced. However, optimization in $Y$ is non-convex. In prior work, it has been shown that, when the constraints on the factorized variable regularly define a smooth manifold, provided $k$ is large enough, for almost all cost matrices, all second-order stationary points (SOSPs) are optimal. Importantly, in practice, one can only compute points which approximately satisfy necessary optimality conditions, leading to the question: are such points also approximately optimal? To this end, and under similar assumptions, we use smoothed analysis to show that approximate SOSPs for a randomly perturbed objective function are approximate global optima, with $k$ scaling like the square root of the number of constraints (up to log factors). We particularize our results to an SDP relaxation of phase retrieval.