Are Your Lights Off? Using Problem Frames to Diagnose System Failures

Tun, Thein Tun; Jackson, Michael; Laney, Robin; Nuseibeh, Bashar and Yu, Yijun (2009). Are Your Lights Off? Using Problem Frames to Diagnose System Failures. Technical Report 2009/07; Department of Computing, The Open University.



This paper reports on our experience of investigating the role of software systems in the power blackout that affected parts of the United States and Canada on 14 August 2003. Based on a detailed study of the official report on the blackout, our investigation aimed to bring out requirements engineering lessons that can inform development practices for dependable software systems. Based on the assumption that the causes of failures are rooted in the complex structures of software systems and their world contexts, we decided to deploy and evaluate a framework that looks beyond the scope of software and into its physical context, and directs attention to places in the system structures where failures are likely to occur. We report that (i) Problem Frames were effective in diagnosing the causes of failures and documenting the causes in a schematic and accessible way, and (ii) errors in addressing the concerns of bid-dable domains, model building problems, and monitoring problems had contributed to the blackout.

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