UpRight fault tolerance




Clement, Allen Grogan

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Experiences with computer systems indicate an inconvenient truth: computers fail and they fail in interesting ways. Although using redundancy to protect against fail-stop failures is common practice, non-fail-stop computer and network failures occur for a variety of reasons including power outage, disk or memory corruption, NIC malfunction, user error, operating system and application bugs or misconfiguration, and many others. The impact of these failures can be dramatic, ranging from service unavailability to stranding airplane passengers on the runway to companies closing. While high-stakes embedded systems have embraced Byzantine fault tolerant techniques, general purpose computing continues to rely on techniques that are fundamentally crash tolerant. In a general purpose environment, the current best practices response to non-fail-stop failures can charitably be described as pragmatic: identify a root cause and add checksums to prevent that error from happening again in the future. Pragmatic responses have proven effective for patching holes and protecting against faults once they have occurred; unfortunately the initial damage has already been done, and it is difficult to say if the patches made to address previous faults will protect against future failures. We posit that an end-to-end solution based on Byzantine fault tolerant (BFT) state machine replication is an efficient and deployable alternative to current ad hoc approaches favored in general purpose computing. The replicated state machine approach ensures that multiple copies of the same deterministic application execute requests in the same order and provides end-to-end assurance that independent transient failures will not lead to unavailability or incorrect responses. An efficient and effective end-to-end solution covers faults that have already been observed as well as failures that have not yet occurred, and it provides structural confidence that developers won't have to track down yet another failure caused by some unpredicted memory, disk, or network behavior. While the promise of end-to-end failure protection is intriguing, significant technical and practical challenges currently prevent adoption in general purpose computing environments. On the technical side, it is important that end-to-end solutions maintain the performance characteristics of deployed systems: if end-to-end solutions dramatically increase computing requirements, dramatically reduce throughput, or dramatically increase latency during normal operation then end-to-end techniques are a non-starter. On the practical side, it is important that end-to-end approaches be both comprehensible and easy to incorporate: if the cost of end-to-end solutions is rewriting an application or trusting intricate and arcane protocols, then end-to-end solutions will not be adopted. In this thesis we show that BFT state machine replication can and be used in deployed systems. Reaching this goal requires us to address both the technical and practical challenges previously mentioned. We revisiting disparate research results from the last decade and tweak, refine, and revise the core ideas to fit together into a coherent whole. Addressing the practical concerns requires us to simplify the process of incorporating BFT techniques into legacy applications.



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