Virtual files: a Framework for Experimental Design
Ross, George D.M.
The increasing power and decreasing cost of computers has resulted in them being applied in an ever widening area. In the world of Computer Aided Design it is now practicable to involve the machine in the earlier stages where a design is still speculative, as well as in the later stages where the computer's calculating ability becomes paramount. Research on database systems has not followed this trend, concentrating instead on commercial applications, with the result that there are very few systems targeted at the early stages of the design process. In this thesis we consider the design and implementation of the file manager for such a system, first of all from the point of view of a single designer working on an entire design, and then from the point of view of a team of designers, each working on a separate aspect of a design. We consider the functionality required of the type of system we are proposing, defining the terminology of experiments to describe it. Having ascertained our requirements we survey current database technology in order to determine to what extent it meets our requirements. We consider traditional concurrency control methods and conclude that they are incompatible with our requirements. We consider current data models and conclude that, with the exception of the persistent programming model, they are not appropriate in the context required, while the implementation of the persistent programming model provides transactions on data structures but not experiments. The implementation of experiments is considered. We examine a number of potential methods, deciding on differential files as the one most likely both to meet our requirements and to have the lowest overheads. Measurements conducted on both a preliminary and a full-scale implementation confirm that this is the case. There are, nevertheless, further gains in convenience and performance to be obtained by exploiting the capabilities of the hardware to the full; we discuss these in relation to virtual memory systems, with particular reference to the VAX/VMS environment. Turning to the case where several designers are each working on a (nearly) distinct part of a design, we consider how to detect conflicts between experiments. Basing our approach on optimistic concurrency control methods, we show how read and write sets may be used to determine those areas of the database where conflicts might arise. As an aside, we show how the methods we propose can be used in an alternative approach to optimistic concurrency control, giving a reduction in system overheads for certain applications. We consider implementation techniques, concluding that a differential files approach has significant advantages in maintaining write sets, while a two-level bitmap may be used to maintain read sets efficiently.