Why Do Internet Services Fail, and What Can Be Done About It?
In 1986 Jim Gray published his landmark study of the causes of failures of Tandem systems and the techniques Tandem used to prevent such failures See J. Gray. Why do computers stop and what can be done about it? Symposium on Reliability in Distributed Software and Database Systems, 1986... Seventeen years later, Internet services have replaced fault-tolerant servers as the new kid on the 24x7-availability block. Using data from three large-scale Internet services, we analyzed the causes of their failures and the (potential) effectiveness of various techniques for preventing and mitigating service failure. We find that (1) operator error is the largest single cause of failures in two of the three services, (2) operator errors often take a long time to repair, (3) configuration errors are the largest category of operator errors, (4) failures in custom-written front-end software are significant, and (5) more extensive online testing and more thoroughly exposing and detecting component failures would reduce failure rates in at least one service. Qualitatively we find that improvement in the maintenance tools and systems used by service operations staff would decrease time to diagnose and repair problems.