[CSE]  Advanced Operating Systems 
 COMP9242 2003/S2 

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Final Exam

General Rules

  • This is a 24h take-home exam.
  • The exam runs from 19:00 on Thursday, 20 November 2003 to 19:00 on Friday, 21 November 2003
  • The basic exam question is available now, but the papers you are asked to analyse will be made available only at 19:00 on Thursday, 20 November 2003.
  • The papers will be available in hardcopy from the NICTA reception desk and electronically via this WWW page.
    • Email Kevin if you would like hardcopies so I can print an appropriate amount.
    • Note: I will only man the reception desk from 19:00-19:30pm on Thursday for you to collect the hardcopy papers, otherwise normal business hours apply.
  • The total exam is worth 35 marks.
  • You will lose 3.5 marks for each hour, or part thereof, your submission is late.
  • You are not to get any help from anyone on the exam. You should not talk to anyone else about the exam from the time you receive the full details until you submit your solution.
  • You have the choice of three different ways to submit your solution:
    1. Submit a hardcopy by the deadline (Friday, 21 November 2003). It must be accompanied by the signed certification of sole authorship. It must be submitted to Kevin Elphinstone in person, or some person (Ben Leslie, Charles Gray, Daniel Potts) Kevin has specifically authorised to receive the exams if he is not there. In addition, you must submit an electronic version within three days of the end of the exam.
    2. Submit an electronic copy, via the give system, by the deadline, and submit a hardcopy, including the signed certification of sole authorship, within two working days of the end of the exam.
    3. Submit, by the deadline, a digitally signed electronic copy. This must contain your full name, student number, date, and the following declaration:
      I hereby declare that this submission is my own work, and I have not received any help whatsoever.
      The file must be signed with PGP, be ASCII, and have an extension .pdf.asc or .ps.asc. This is achieved (when using PGP 6.0 or later) with the command:
      pgp -sa <file>

Notes on electronic submissions

  1. In the cases where a paper submission is also required (cases 1 and 2 above), the electronic submission, when printed on a CSE printer, must appear exactly as the submitted hardcopy.
  2. The submission must either be in PDF format (and use the extension .pdf) or in PostScript format (extension .ps). It can be compressed using gzip (extensions .ps.gz or .pdf.gz)
  3. The submission must be made via the give system, mark name "report".
  4. If using give, check you can submit your report (or any report) well before the deadline. We will have little sympathy for submission issues if you raise them at 18:59:59 on Friday.
  5. If using PDF, make sure that you only use Type-1 fonts, as others are unprintable on some printers. LaTeX users can ensure the use of Type-1 fonts by producing a PostScript file with the command
    dvips -Pwww -o file.ps file
    and then converting this to PDF.

Notes on digitally signed submissions

Digitally signing your submission only makes sense if we can verify your signature. I therefore require you to have your signature signed by Gernot or Kevin beforehand, or within three days of the end of the exam. Therefore, if you want to use the digital signature option, do the following:
  1. Familiarise yourself with PGP (or GPG). We will not provide tutorials on this, it's up to you. Get yourself a public key if you don't have one. Follow the recommended safeguards to keep it secure. It will be like your normal signature!
  2. See Kevin with your key and proof of identity. He will then sign your key.
  3. This signed key can then be used to sign your exam. (Feel free to get others to sign your key as well.) If you get your key signed after the exam, make sure that it is the same key as used for signing the exam.
  4. Make sure that PGP or GPG is installed on the system you are going to use to write your exam, and that you can use it reliably. If you stuff up, it's your own problem.


You are given two research papers (the links will be active from 19:00 on the 20th):
  • Paper 1: Barham et al., "Xen and the art of virtualization", SOSP 2003 PDF
  • Paper 2: Swift et al., "Improving the reliability of commodity operating systems", SOSP 2003 PDF

You are to read, understand, and critically assess the papers. Questions you may want to ask yourself for each of the papers:

  • What problem is it trying to address?
  • How well does it address the issue?
  • How does it relate to other work? Does it reference relevant other work (as far as you can tell), does it do the other work justice?
  • How technically sound is it? Does their argumentation, the presented data convince you? Should they have been looking at other issues?
  • How good are the results?
  • How good/deep is their analysis?
  • How easy would it be to reproduce their results?
  • How general are their results? Can they be applied to other systems? Did we learn some general truth?
These are only hints, I am not asking you to explicitly answer all these for each paper. However, you may find those questions helpful in critically analysing the papers. Imagine you are a reviewer for a conference to which the papers have been submitted, and you are to judge their contribution to the field.

Note that all papers are in fact published (and therefore cannot be all that bad :-)

What to submit

You are to submit a report which summarises for each paper the basic ideas behind their work. You are to give a critique of the technical merits, achievements and shortcomings (if any). The papers are not directly related, so you don't have to compare them.

I am intentionally not specifying a length limit. However, I strongly encourage you to be concise. Lengthy submissions will almost certainly be unfocussed and waffly. I cannot imagine a decent job in excess of 3000 words, and would imagine that a very good submission would stay well below 2000 words total. If your report gets longer than this you should step back and try to focus.

What I will be looking for

You will be marked on the level of understanding and critical analysis portrayed in you submission. All relative to what can be reasonably expected from you (I know that none of you have a PhD in OS yet :-)

Previous exams

You may find it useful to look at the 1999, 2000 and 2002 exams, and the sample reports provided there.
Last modified: 29 Oct 2004.