Pivot Tracing: Dynamic Causal Monitoring for Distributed Systems (SOSP ’15)

Monitoring and troubleshooting distributed systems is notoriously difficult; potential problems are complex, varied, and unpredictable. The monitoring and diagnosis tools commonly used today – logs, counters, and metrics – have two important limitations: what gets recorded is defined a priori, and the information is recorded in a component- or machine-centric way, making it extremely hard to correlate events that cross these boundaries. This paper presents Pivot Tracing, a monitoring framework for distributed systems that addresses both limitations by combining dynamic instrumentation with a novel relational operator: the happened-before join. Pivot Tracing gives users, at runtime, the ability to define arbitrary metrics at one point of the system, while being able to select, filter, and group by events meaningful at other parts of the system, even when crossing component or machine boundaries. We have implemented a prototype of Pivot Tracing for Java-based systems and evaluate it on a heterogeneous Hadoop cluster comprising HDFS, HBase, MapReduce, and YARN. We show that Pivot Tracing can effectively identify a diverse range of root causes such as software bugs, misconfiguration, and limping hardware. We show that Pivot Tracing is dynamic, extensible, and enables cross-tier analysis between inter-operating applications, with low execution overhead.