Detecting failures in distributed systems with the FALCON spy network

Joshua B. Leners, Hao Wu, Wei-Lun Hung, Marcos K. Aguilera, and Michael Walfish

Proceedings of the ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles (SOSP) 2011.

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Distributed Systems

A common way for a distributed system to tolerate crashes is to explicitly detect them and then recover from them. Interestingly, detection can take much longer than recovery, as a result of many advances in recovery techniques, making failure detection the dominant factor in these systems’ unavailability when a crash occurs. This paper presents the design, implementation, and evaluation of Falcon, a failure detector with several features. First, Falcon’s common-case detection time is sub-second, which keeps unavailability low. Second, Falcon is reliable: it never reports a process as down when it is actually up. Third, Falcon sometimes kills to achieve reliable detection but aims to kill the smallest needed component. Falcon achieves these features by coordinating a network of spies, each monitoring a layer of the system. Falcon’s main cost is a small amount of platform-specific logic. Falcon is thus the first failure detector that is fast, reliable, and viable. As such, it could change the way that a class of distributed systems is built.