Provenance for System Troubleshooting

Marc Chiarini, Computing Innovation Fellow at Harvard SEAS

Video of lecture


Marc Chiarini

System administrators use a variety of techniques to track down and repair (or avoid) problems that occur in the systems under their purview. Analyzing log files, cross-correlating events on different machines, establishing liveness and performance monitors, and automating configuration procedures are just a few of the approaches used to stave off entropy. These efforts are often stymied by the presence of hidden dependencies between components in a system (e.g., processes, pipes, files, etc). In this presentation, I argue that system-level provenance (metadata that records the history of files, pipes, processes and other system-level objects) can help expose these dependencies, giving system administrators a more complete picture of component interactions, thus easing the task of troubleshooting.


Marc Chiarini (key-uh-ree-nee) worked in IT for 10+ years before returning to Tufts University and receiving a PhD under his advisor Alva Couch. He likes to float on the thermals between theory and practice and his primary goal is to improve the lives of those in the IT admin community. To that end, he has researched and written on digital provenance, autonomic computing, performance analysis, virtualization security, dependency analysis, system configuration management, and system administration. In 2010 Marc began a two-year computing innovation postdoc at Harvard under the tutelage of Margo Seltzer, and will be seeking a research position in academia or industry starting in 2013.