What’s happening to computer hardware, and what does it mean for systems software?

Event details

  • When: 2nd April 2015 09:15 - 15:30
  • Where: St Andrews
  • Series: Distinguished Lectures Series
  • Format: Distinguished lecture

Mothy RoscoeThe first set of Computer Science Distinguished Lectures in 2015 will
be given by Prof Mothy Roscoe of ETH Zurich, 09:15–15:30 on Thursday 2nd April
in the Byre Theatre.

Computer systems are not what they used to be, and the days when a
machine could be described as a processor, some memory, and some I/O
devices are long gone. Modern machines, from Systems-on-a-Chip in
phones to rack-scale data appliances, are themselves complex networks
of heterogeneous processing elements, different kinds of memory, and
diverse communication links.

This trend will continue. Networks and interconnects will get faster,
while individual processor cores will not (and will become more
diverse and specialized instead). Memory will become very large,
highly distributed, and possibly persistent. Partial failures of
components will be common.

This has profound implications for operating systems. Until recently
OS design was a relatively quiet area of computer science – the world
seemed to have settled on the Unix-like model of a shared-memory
kernel exemplified by Linux, Windows, Android, iOS, MacOS, and even
hypervisors like Xen. However, this design is simply unworkable in
the face of the hardware we see coming down the road, and researchers
and hardware companies have come to realize that something else is

In these talks I will explore what these hardware trends mean from the
perspective of systems software, in particular the OS. I’ll
illustrate them using a very different design and implementation of
OS, the “multikernel” architecture of Barrelfish, an OS created at ETH
to address these challenges.

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