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Peer Groups versus Hierarchical Groups

The distinction between closed and open groups relates to who can communicate with the group. Another important distinction has to do with the internal structure of the group. In some groups, all the processes are equal. No one is boss and all decisions are made collectively. In other groups, some kind of hierarchy exists. For example, one process is the coordinator and all the others are workers. In this model, when a request for work is generated, either by an external client or by one of the workers, it is sent to the coordinator. The coordinator then decides which worker is best suited to carry it out, and forwards it there. More complex hierarchies are also possible, of course. These communication patterns are illustrated in Fig. 2-32.


Distributed operating systems

Fig. 2-32. (a) Communication in a peer group. (b) Communication in a simple hierarchical group.


Each of these organizations has its own advantages and disadvantages. The peer group is symmetric and has no single point of failure. If one of the processes crashes, the group simply becomes smaller, but can otherwise continue. A disadvantage is that decision making is more complicated. To decide anything, a vote has to be taken, incurring some delay and overhead.

The hierarchical group has the opposite properties. Loss of the coordinator brings the entire group to a grinding halt, but as long as it is running, it can make decisions without bothering everyone else. For example, a hierarchical group might be appropriate for a parallel chess program. The coordinator takes the current board, generates all the legal moves from it, and farms them out to the workers for evaluation. During this evaluation, new boards are generated and sent back to the coordinator to have them evaluated. When a worker is idle, it asks the coordinator for a new board to work on. In this manner, the coordinator controls the search strategy and prunes the game tree (e.g., using the alpha-beta search method), but leaves the actual evaluation to the workers.


Closed Groups versus Open Groups | Distributed operating systems | Group Membership