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It is widely understood that most system downtime is accounted for by programming errors and administration time. However, a growing body of work has indicated an increasing cause of downtime may stem from transient errors in computer system hardware due to external factors, such as cosmic rays. This work indicates that moving to denser semiconductor technologies at lower voltages has the potential to increase these transient errors. In this paper, we investigate the susceptibility of commodity operating systems and applications on commodity PC processors to these soft-errors and we introduce ideas regarding the improved recovery from these transient errors in software. Our results indicate that, for the Linux kernel and a Java virtual machine running sample workloads, many errors are not activated, mostly due to overwriting. In addition, given current and upcoming microprocessor support, our results indicate that those errors activated, which would normally lead to system reboot, need not be fatal to the system if software knowledge is used for simple software recovery. Together, they indicate the benefits of simple memory soft error recovery handling in commodity processors and software.
Date of Publication: Dec. 2004