MIT Builds Crash-proof Computer

August 24, 2015—MIT computer science researchers unveils a file system that is “mathematically guaranteed” not to lose files when a computer crashes. Their study is based on a process called formal verification, which involves mathematically describing the acceptable bounds of operation for a program, and then proving that the program will never go beyond those boundaries.

“What many people worry about is building these file systems to be reliable, both when they’re operating normally but also in the case of crashes, power failure, software bugs, hardware errors, what have you,” says Nickolai Zeldovich in a press statement. Zeldovich is a MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) principal investigator who co-authored the new paper.

“Making sure that the file system can recover from a crash at any point is tricky because there are so many different places that you could crash. You literally have to consider every instruction or every disk operation and think, ‘Well, what if I crash now? What now? What now?’ And so empirically, people have found lots of bugs in file systems that have to do with crash recovery, and they keep finding them, even in very well tested file systems, because it’s just so hard to do.”

There had already been previous studies that proved on paper that a crash-proof system is feasible. MIT’s research however, is the first to prove it with an actual code of the file system itself.
The team will formally present their findings in the ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles in October 2015.

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