Eidetic Systems

David Devecsery, Michael Chow, Xianzheng Dou, Jason Flinn, and Peter M. Chen


The vast majority of state produced by a typical computer is generated, consumed, then lost forever. We argue that a computer system should instead provide the ability to recall any past state that existed on the computer, and further, that it should be able to provide the lineage of any byte in a current or past state. We call a system with this ability an eidetic computer system. To preserve all prior state efficiently, we observe and leverage the synergy between deterministic replay and information flow. By dividing the system into groups of replaying processes and tracking dependencies among groups, we enable the analysis of information flow among groups, make it possible for one group to regenerate the data needed by another, and permit the replay of subsets of processes rather than of the entire system. We use model-based compression and deduplicated file recording to reduce the space overhead of deterministic replay. We also develop a variety of linkage functions to analyze the lineage of state, and we apply these functions via retrospective binary analysis.

In this paper we present Arnold, the first practical eidetic computing platform. Preliminary data from several weeks of continuous use on our workstations shows that Arnold's storage requirements for 4 or more years of usage can be satisfied by adding a 4 TB hard drive to the system. Further, the performance overhead on almost all workloads we measured was under 8%. We show that Arnold can reconstruct prior state and answer lineage queries, including backward queries (on what did this item depend?) and forward queries (what other state did this item affect?).