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Communications of the ACM


Abstracting the Geniuses Away from Failure Testing

Abstracting the Geniuses Away from Failure Testing, illustration

Credit: Vitezslav Valka

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The heterogeneity, complexity, and Scale of cloud applications make verification of their fault tolerance properties challenging. Companies are moving away from formal methods and toward large-scale testing in which components are deliberately compromised to identify weaknesses in the software. For example, techniques such as Jepsen apply fault-injection testing to distributed data stores, and Chaos Engineering performs fault injection experiments on production systems, often on live traffic. Both approaches have captured the attention of industry and academia alike.

Unfortunately, the search space of distinct fault combinations that an infrastructure can test is intractable. Existing failure-testing solutions require skilled and intelligent users who can supply the faults to inject. These superusers, known as Chaos Engineers and Jepsen experts, must study the systems under test, observe system executions, and then formulate hypotheses about which faults are most likely to expose real system-design flaws. This approach is fundamentally unscalable and unprincipled. It relies on the superuser's ability to interpret how a distributed system employs redundancy to mask or ameliorate faults and, moreover, the ability to recognize the insufficiencies in those redundancies—in other words, human genius.


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