Mirage: extreme specialisation of virtual appliances
by Xen Project on Aug 30, 2012
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Infrastructure-as-a-Service compute clouds provide a flexible hardware platform on which customers host applications as a set of appliances, e.g., web servers or databases. Each appliance is a VM ...
Infrastructure-as-a-Service compute clouds provide a flexible hardware platform on which customers host applications as a set of appliances, e.g., web servers or databases. Each appliance is a VM image containing an OS kernel and userspace processes, within which applications access resources via traditional APIs such as POSIX. However, the flexibility provided by the hypervisor comes at a cost: the addition of another layer in the already complex software stack which impacts runtime performance, and increases the size of the trusted computing base.
Given that modern software is generally written in high-level languages that abstract the underlying OS, we revisit how these appliances are constructed with our Mirage operating system. Mirage supports the progressive specialisation of source code, and gradually replaces traditional OS components with customisable libraries, ultimately resulting in "unikernel" VMs: sealed, fixed-purpose VMs that run directly on the hypervisor.
Developers no longer need to become sysadmins, expert in the configuration of all manner of system components, to use cloud resources. At the same time, they can develop their code using their usual tools, only making the final push to the cloud once they are satisfied their code works. As they explicitly link in components that would normally be provided by the host OS, the resulting unikernels are also highly compact: facilities that are not used are simply not included in the resulting microkernel binary.
This talk will describe the architecture of Mirage, and show a quick demonstration of how to build a web-server that runs as a unikernel on a standard Xen installation.
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