Syllabus and general information for MCS-378: Operating Systems (Fall 2001)


This course covers the basics of concurrent programming, operating systems, networking, and distributed systems. There are two principal reasons why a course on operating systems is practical to take (as opposed to just interesting), even if you never expect to be involved in the development of an operating system (which most of you won't):

Office hours

I will be available in my office (OHS 303) 10:30-11:20 Tuesdays, 1:30-2:20 Wednesdays, 9:00-9:50 Thursdays, 10:30-11:20 Fridays, and by appointment. Or try your luck: just stop by and see whether my door is open. You may send me electronic mail at or call me at extension 7466. I'll try to put any updates to my office hours on my web page, so check there if in doubt.

World Wide Web

All course materials will be available through my World Wide Web page. The URL for this course is After this syllabus I will give hardcopy handouts only to those students who want them.

Text and readings

The primary text for the course will be Siberschatz, Galvin, and Gagne's Applied Operating System Concepts, first edition, but I'll also be distributing some readings that are recent conference papers, in order to provide both an update on some recent interesting work and also a bit more ``meat.' Those readings will form the basis for the student presentations, described below. Lab handouts may also include some non-trivial reading. I'll probably also distribute some notes to read about networking, as I'm expanding our coverage of this topic.


There will be four lab assignments. The due dates for the labs are shown in the syllabus below. We'll meet in the OHS 326 or 329 lab every Monday, and Friday November 30th as well.

Attendance is expected for all lab days. (If you turn in a lab report early, you are excused from the remaining days devoted to that lab.) I will excuse up to two absences per student, for any reason. Use yours wisely. If you exceed this allowance, I may reduce your course grade by one letter grade.

For each lab, I will assign you a lab group. You will work with different people each lab, and with a different person for the presentation than for any of the labs. Thus, over the semester you will work with the majority of the class.


There will be eight days in the semester when I sit back and relax and let students teach the class instead. Each time, a pair of students will have a class period to lead discussion on one of the papers we read from a conference. The whole class will be expected to read the paper at least casually, but the pair leading the class will be expected to have read it more carefully and done whatever it takes to really understand it, which may involve additional background reading, talking with me, etc.

Each pair of students will be responsible for setting up a meeting with me the week before their presentation to go over it with me. (You are welcome to additional consultations as well.) At that meeting, you should also give me three straightforward questions about your reading. I will distribute these to the full class. All class members will turn in their answers to these three questions at the beginning of class the day of your presentation, as a way of making sure we all have a common starting point.

I will provide a list of attributes that good presentations have. For each presentation, each student in the audience will be asked to select two of these attributes that were particular strong points, and two that particularly need work. I will summarize this feedback for the presenters. I will also use the same list of attributes to structure my own evaluation of the presentation, which will take place in a face-to-face "debriefing" with the presenters, with the grade generated as a summary of that meeting.

I'm going to ask you to express a preference ranking for the topics, and will try to the extent possible to assign people to topics based on that. (You can also take into account in your preference rankings the timing of the presentations.) I'll need to have you email me the rankings by 1:15pm Thursday (September 6) so that I can make the presentation and lab group assignments in time for the lab staring Monday.

The topics are:

  1. September 19: "Scalable Linux Scheduling", Stephen Molloy and Peter Honeyman, FREENIX Track: 2001 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 285-295.
  2. September 21: "Surplus Fair Scheduling: A Proportional-Share CPU Scheduling Algorithm for Symmetric Multiprocessors", Abhishek Chandra, Micah Adler, Pawan Goyal, and Prashant Shenoy, 4th Symposium on Operating System Design & Implementation, 2000, pp. 45-58.
  3. October 12: "The Multi-Queue Replacement Algorithm for Second Level Buffer Caches", Yuanyuan Zhou, James F. Philbin, and Kai Li, 2001 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 91-104.
  4. October 23: "Storage Management for Web Proxies", Elizabeth Shriver, Eran Gabber, Lan Huang, and Christopher A. Stein, 2001 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, pp. 203-216.
  5. October 24: "Single Instance Storage in Windows 2000", William J. Bolosky, Scott Corbin, David Goebel, and John R. Douceur, 4th USENIX Windows Systems Symposium, 2000, pp. 13-24.
  6. November 16: "An Architecture for Content Routing Support in the Internet", Mark Gritter and David R. Cheriton, 3rd USENIX Symposium on Internet Technologies and Systems, 2001, pp. 37-48.
  7. November 28: "Archipelago: An Island-Based File System For Highly Available And Scalable Internet Services", Minwen Ji, Edward W. Felten, Randolph Wang, and Jaswinder Pal Singh, 4th USENIX Windows Systems Symposium, 2000, pp. 1-12.
  8. December 7: "The OSU Flow-tools Package and CISCO NetFlow Logs", Steve Romig, Mark Fullmer, and Ron Luman, 14th Systems Administration Conference, 2000, pp. 291-303.

Homework assignment policy

I will assign homework problems. You may turn in any individual homework problem whenever you think you have it solved. I will return it to you as quickly as I can, but normally with only an indication of whether it is acceptable or needs more work. (Sometimes I may give a brief indication of what area it needs more work in.) If a problem needs more work, and you aren't sure what sort of work it still needs, you should treat that as an invitation to come talk with me about it. Once you've done the additional work, you may turn the problem in again. In fact, you may turn in each problem in as many times as you like, until it is marked as acceptable. Your grade for the homework portion of the course will be based on the fraction of homework problems that you eventually did acceptably.

Normally homework problems may be turned in at any time up until the midterm exam, for those topics covered on the midterm, or the last day of classes, for the remainder. However, if we would benefit from discussing a homework problem in class, I may issue a "last call" for solutions to that problem, at least a week in advance.

Unless I indicate that a particular problem must be done individually, you may work on any problem in a group of two or three students. One copy of the solution produced by the team should be turned in, with all team members names on it. Write "we all contributed fairly to this solution" and have all team members sign under that statement.


There will be midterm and final exams. The midterm will be as shown on the syllabus below, and the final exam will be as scheduled by the registrar, 1-3pm on December 14th.


Students are encouraged to discuss the course, including issues raised by the assignments. However, the solutions to assignments should be individual original work unless otherwise specified. If an assignment makes you realize you don't understand the material, ask a fellow student a question designed to improve your understanding, not one designed to get the assignment done. To do otherwise is to cheat yourself out of understanding, as well as to be intolerably dishonorable.

Any substantive contribution to your solution by another person or taken from a publication should be properly acknowledged in writing. Failure to do so is plagiarism and will necessitate disciplinary action.

The same standards regarding plagiarism apply to team projects as to the work of individuals, except that the author is now the entire team rather than an individual. Anything taken from a source outside the team should be be properly cited.

One additional issue that arises from the team authorship of project reports is that all team members must stand behind all reports bearing their names. All team members have quality assurance responsibility for the entire project. If there is irreconcilable disagreement within the team it is necessary to indicate as much in the reports; this can be in the form of a ``minority opinion'' or ``dissenting opinion'' section where appropriate.

Late lab assignments

All lab assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated. Late assignments will be penalized by one ``grade notch'' (such as A to A- or A- to B+) for each weekday late or fraction thereof. However, no late assignments will be accepted after graded assignments are handed back.

If you are too sick to complete an assignment on time, you will not be penalized. Simply write ``late due to illness'' at the top of the assignment, sign your name and hand it in. Other circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Grade changes

Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.


I will provide you with a letter grade on each lab assignment, on your presentation, and on each test, in addition to the mid-term and final grades, so that you may keep track of your performance. As a guideline, the course components will contribute to your final grade in the proportions indicated below:

Style guidelines

All homework and lab reports should be readily readable, and should not presuppose that I already know what you are trying to say. Use full English sentences where appropriate (namely almost everywhere) and clear diagrams, programs, etc. Remember that your goal is to communicate clearly, and that the appearance of these technical items plays a role in this communication process. Be sure your assignments are always stapled together and that your name is always on them.


Please contact me immediately if you have a learning or physical disability requiring accommodation.


In the reading column, a single number with no decimal point indicates an entire chapter. Section 0 means the material at the beginning of a chapter before the first section.

This is my best guess as to the rate at which we will cover material. However, don't be shocked if I have to pass out one or more revised syllabi.
9/72Computer-system structures

9/10Lab 1: Scheduling experiments
9/113Operating-system structures

9/17Lab 1 (concludes)
9/186CPU scheduling
9/19paper 1Scalable Linux Scheduling
9/21paper 2Surplus Fair Scheduling

9/24Lab 2: Kernel-level experimentationLab 1
9/257.0-7.6Process synchronization
9/267.7-7.10More on process synchronization

10/1Lab 2 (continued)
10/59Memory management

10/8Lab 2 (continued)
10/910.0-10.4Virtual memory
10/1010.5-10.8More on virtual memory
10/12paper 3Multi-Queue Replacement

10/15Lab 2 (concludes)
10/1611.0-11.5File systems
10/1711.6-11.11More on file systemsLab 2

10/23paper 4Storage Management for Web Proxies
10/24paper 5Single-Instance Storage

10/29Lab 3: Filesystem locality
10/30mid-term exam
10/3112I/O systems
11/213Mass storage

11/5Lab 3 (continued)
11/614Network structures
11/7More on networking
11/9More on networking

11/12Lab 3 (continued)
11/13More on networking
11/14Networking case study
11/16paper 6Content Routing

11/19Lab 3 (concludes)
11/2015Distributed communication
11/2116Distributed coordinationLab 3

11/26Lab 4: Distributed communication
11/2717Distributed file systems
11/28paper 7Archipelago
11/30Lab 4 (continued) (a Friday lab)

12/3Lab 4 (continued)
12/7paper 8NetFlow Logs

12/10Lab 4 (concludes)
12/11Infrastructure tour
12/12review/catch-up/evaluationLab 4

12/14Final exam, 1-3pm

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>