Parrot: Transparent User-Level Middleware for Data-Intensive Computing

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Douglas Thain
Miron Livny


Distributed computing continues to be an alphabet-soup of services and protocols for managing computation and storage. To live in this environment, applications require middleware that can transparently adapt standard interfaces to new distributed systems; such middleware is known as an interposition agent. In this paper, we present several lessons learned about interposition agents via a progressive study of design possibilities. Although performance is an important concern, we pay special attention to less tangible issues such as portability, reliability, and compatibility. We begin with a comparison of seven methods of interposition and select one method, the debugger trap, that is the slowest but also the most reliable. Using this method, we implement a complete interposition agent, Parrot, that splices existing remote I/O systems into the namespace of standard applications. The primary design problem of Parrot is the mapping of fixed application semantics into the semantics of the available I/O systems. We offer a detailed discussion of how errors and other unexpected conditions must be carefully managed in order to keep this mapping intact. We conclude with a evaluation of the performance of the I/O protocols employed by Parrot, and use an Andrew-like benchmark to demonstrate that semantic differences have consequences in performance.

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