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Wednesday, 04 July 2012 13:15

Linux blamed for leap second issues

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Linux is being blamed for the problems encountered at the weekend when the month changed, due to the insertion of a leap second at midnight to compensate for the uneven rotation of the earth.

The change caused some systems to lock up due to intense CPU activity of some applications. Airlines like Qantas were affected as the Amadeus booking system used by them is an application that runs on Linux.

The application NTP is used to synchronise time on Linux servers; this application when restarted was able to function as it should. The Linux kernel has some issues in dealing with the extra second; a patch is now in the works. Some distributions like Red Hat have already put out patches.

One of the applications affected was MySQL, the popular open source database, which runs mainly on Linux. German hosting company, Hetzner, experienced an increase in power usage of one MW at the time when the date changed.

The Mozilla Foundation experienced sharply increased loads on one server and used a little script, run via the Puppet system management software,to reset the date.

The bug was reported to the Debian GNU/Linux project shortly after midnight when developer Julian Gilbey noticed that MySQL was taking up loads of CPU on two different servers. Rebooting sorted the issue; obviously this is not an option for businesses that are running mission-critical applications.

Debian developer Russell Coker, who also experienced runaway CPU use on a server, said the issue should be viewed with concern by national governments.

"Hetzner is only one German hosting company and there's also a lot of private computer use that has mostly idle servers (eg. pretty much every corporate server I've ever run)," he wrote in a post to the Melbourne Linux user group, LUV

"It's easy to imagine this bug as having added a few hundred MW of load to the power grid. That sort of sudden load could cause a blackout. If the systems which manage the power grid to prevent cascading failures were also hit by the same bug then it would have been particularly nasty."

Google avoided problems by adopting a solution it dubbed as the "leap smear", modifiying its internal NTP servers so that a couple of milliseconds were added to every update. This was done over a time window before the leap second was actually added.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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