Fault-Tolerant Cluster Testbed Project

Clusters of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) processors inteconnected by high-speed SANs or LANs are increasingly used for cost-effective high-performance parallel computing. Typically, in such systems, every node runs a local copy of an off-the-shelf operating system that is not designed to manage a distributed cluster. Cluster management middleware (CMM) runs between the applications and the operating system and provides resource allocation, scheduling, coordination of fault tolerance actions, and coordination of the interaction between the cluster and external devices. The cluster management middleware is critical to overall system reliability since if the cluster management middleware fails, the system is lost.

The Fault-Tolerant Cluster Testbed (FTCT) project is motivated by JPL/NASA's Remote Exploration and Experimentation (REE) project. The goal of REE is to use COTS hardware and software to deploy scalable supercomputing technology in space. In this environment, fault tolerance is more critical than for most earth-bound systems due to the much higher fault rate of COTS hardware in space.

The focus of the FTCT project is on developing and evaluating algorithms and implementations of fault tolerant cluster managers. Some of the critical factors driving this work are the need to deal with realistic fault models, the need to minimize the performance and power overheads of the fault tolerant mechanisms, and the need to support soft real-time requirements. In addition, the cluster management middleware must provide the mechanisms needed to support, as a separate layer, application-level fault tolerance for critical applications.

System Structure

FTCT System StructureThe system consists of a group of actively replicated managers, an agent process on each node, and a library for user applications. The manager group performs cluster-level decision making, is responsible for resource allocation, scheduling, and coordination of system level monitoring and fault recovery procedures. An agent process on each node sends node status information to the manager group, performs commands at the node on behalf of the manager group, and provides an interface between application processes and the cluster management middleware (CMM). 

Messages exchanged among managers, and between managers and agents are authenticated (signed) to ensure that faulty nodes cannot forge messages from other nodes, even if the message is forwarded by the faulty node. Manager replicas transmit commands to the agents.  Outputs produced by the manager replicas are voted on by agents. Agents act only when receiving identical authenticated commands from at least two manager replicas. Hence, a manager replica that stops or generates incorrect commands cannot corrupt the system. If a manager replica fails, a new manager replica is restarted using the states of the remaining two manager replicas.

Key Features

Active Replication for the Fault-Tolerant Central Manager

Detection of arbitrary (Byzantine) failures requires multiple active replicas and continuous comparison of the results. In order to avoid a lengthy interruption for recovery when a discrepancy is detected, more than two replicas are needed. With the classic TMR scheme that is currently implemented in FTCT, any single failure can be tolerated since there will always be two manager replicas that agree on each result.

With active replication, all replicas execute and generate outputs independently. In the absence of failures, they must produce the same outputs in the same order. This requires all inputs to be delivered to the replicas in the same order and processing to be deterministic. Hence, a reliable group communication protocol must be used to transmit messages to the manager replicas.
FTCT uses an atomic multicast protocol similar to the group communication protocol used in Amoeba, which is a fixed-sequencer-based protocol, with the primary manager as the sequencer.

Some of the management functionalities, such as gang scheduling, are time  triggered. Scheduling these time based events and the external message events on the manager replicas introduces indeterminism that may cause inconsistency among the replicas. In order to avoid that, we defined  group time events  and developed a deterministic scheduling algorithm to process them consistently and reliably on all manager replicas.

Communication Infrastructure

Portable Communication Layer

The interprocessor communication for the FTCT system is implemented on top of a light weight communication infrastructure that provides optimized communication interface for both the management middleware and parallel applications. It is designed for portability and for efficient operation on top of different network platforms, such as Myrinet/GM, UDP and TDP, with very low overhead (avoids extra copying for message transmission).

Fault Detection

FTCT employs three key mechanisms for fault detection: inconsistent outputs from the manager replicas, missing heartbeats, and identification of corrupt, forged, or missing messages. Inconsistent outputs from the manager replicas are detected by the voting mechanism. Heartbeat mechanism is used to detect crash/stop failures. Members of the manager group send periodic heartbeats to each other and agents send periodic heartbeats to the manager group. Missing heartbeats indicate a likely faults. Coding is used to detect message corruption. In addition, as mentioned earlier, all the messages transmitted by members of the CMM are authenticated. The use of authenticated messages is critical to detecting any attempt by the primary manager replica to modify messages to the manager group. All messages to the manager group are acknowledged independently by the replicas. Hence, if the primary manager replica modifies, discards or reorders messages before sending them to the backup manager replicas, the agents will detect the problem as inconsistent or missing acknowledgements from members of the manager group.

Manager Self-Diagnosis and Reconfiguration

With active triplication, if one replica is faulty the remaining working replicas still form a majority and the group can continue to function correctly. However, the faulty replica must still be identified and repaired or replaced. Otherwise, a future fault in some other component of the system (such as another replica) may combine with the faulty replica and drive the system into a state from which it cannot recover.

Faulty manager replicas can be detected by comparing all the replica outputs. With the FTCT CMM, this is done by the agents. However, agents may be faulty and thus cannot be trusted to correctly identify faulty manager replicas. Instead, an agent that detects an inconsistency reports it by sending point-to-point messages to all the members of the group. After that, the manager self-diagnosis procedure is initiated. During the diagnosis procedure, the manager replicas reach agreement on a diagnosis point and compare their state (checksum of their state) to identify the faulty replica. The manager group then goes through a reconfiguration to replace the faulty replica with a new one. The diagnosis and reconfiguration are non blocking: the management functionalities are still available while the diagnosis and reconfiguration are on going. The self diagnosis and reconfiguration allows us to build a long lived management system.

An Out-of-Band Signaling Mechanism for Applications

Application-level fault tolerance schemes can be facilitated by a mechanism that allows the application processes to exchange messages out-of-band from the normal application MPI interprocess communication. For example, an acceptance test in an application process may fail and the desired roll-forward recovery mechanism may require informing all the processes of the task, which are running on other nodes. At this point, the processes on the other node may not be receiving messages (e.g., a process may be stuck in an infinite loop). The out-of-band communication mechanism implemented in FTCT allows a process of a task to cause an asynchronous message to be delivered to all other members of the task.

In order to implement the out-of-band signaling feature, the FTCT CMM provides application processes with the ability to ``signal'' the local agent. The agent propagates the asynchronous message by sending it to the manager group, which forwards it to the agents on all the nodes running processes of the same parallel task. Each agent at such a nodes uses UNIX signals to interrupt the application process and then deliver the message.