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Complexity of System Configuration Management
System administration has often been considered to be a "practice" with no theoretical underpinnings. In this thesis, we begin to define a theory of system administration, based upon two activities of system administrators: configuration management and dependency analysis. We formalize and explore the complexity of these activities, and demonstrate that they are intractable in the general case. We define the concepts of system behavior, kinds of configuration operations, a model of configuration management, a model of reproducibility, and proofs that several parts of the process are NP-complete or NP-hard. We also explore how system administrators keep these tasks tractable in practice. This is a first step toward a theory of system administration and a common language for discussing the theoretical underpinnings of the practice.
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