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Runtime Speculative Software-only Fault Tolerance

Report ID:
February 2012
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Transient faults are emerging as a critical reliability concern for modern microprocessors. Recently, microprocessors have been designed with lower voltage level ,smaller and faster transistors enabled by improved fabrication technology. A combination of increased density of transistors on chip, reduced noise margin of each transistor, and voltage scaling are making hardware systems more susceptible to transient faults than ever.

Both hardware or software solutions have been proposed for transient fault tolerance. The hardware approach typically adds redundant hardware modules to the system, thus requiring extra chip area as well as higher hardware design and verification cost. In addition, the scope and mechanism of fault tolerance are hardwired at design time, which could be suboptimal with the change of deployment environment. Unlike hardware solutions, software-only techniques do not require any specialized hardware extensions and are more flexible with the scope of protection and the change of environment. However, even the best-performing software-only fault tolerance techniques incur significant performance cost. The overhead of prior work comes from doubled register usage, frequent inter-core communication, or barrier synchronizations. These factors prevent existing software techniques from being adopted widely.

To address these problems, this dissertation proposes Runtime Software-only Speculative Fault Tolerance (RSFT). The key insights behind this dissertation are: (1) not all values are equally important. Transient faults may alter a transistor?s value, which is never used. Only the values that will affect the externally visible behavior of a program must be verified before being used; (2) Value speculation can efficiently remove data dependences introduced by cross checking values produced in the program and its redundant copy with high confidence, thus significantly improves program runtime performance.

RSFT serves as a virtual layer between the application and the underlying platform. It takes a program binary and designated execution arguments as input, and automatically creates two symmetric program instances for redundant execution, to utilize extra cores in a multi-core system. RSFT detects transient faults at system calls level in a non-invasive way, and exploits high-confidence value speculation to achieve low runtime overhead. Light- weight runtime checkpointing and background validation work together to provide tran- sient fault recovery with only 6.17% overhead. The prototype of this framework was im- plemented and evaluated on a commodity multi-core system. The evaluation demonstrated that with this framework, transient fault tolerance can achieve best-in-class performance, full fault coverage, and fast recovery with no hardware module involved.

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