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At the mercy of suppliers.
We couldn't even figure out if it was a hardware problem or a software problem - Solaris had to be updated for the new machine, so it could have been a kernel problem. But nothing was reproducible. We'd get core dumps and spend hours pouring over them. Some were just crazy, showing values in registers that were simply impossible given the preceeding instructions. We tried everything. Replacing processor boards. Replacing backplanes. It was deeply random. It's very randomness suggested that maybe it was a physics problem: maybe it was alpha particles or cosmic rays. Maybe it was machines close to nuclear power plants. One site experiencing problems was near Fermilab. We actually mapped out failures geographically to see if they correlated to such particle sources. Nope. In desperation, a bright hardware engineer decided to measure the radioactivity of the systems themselves. Bingo! Particles! But from where? Much detailed scanning and it turned out that the packaging of the cache ram chips we were using was noticeably radioactive. We switched suppliers and the problem totally went away . After two years of tearing out hair out, we had a solution.
sun  history  computing  intermittentfailures  debugging  radioactivity 
june 2019 by kme
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