Skip to main content /TECH with /TECH

The brave new OS of the future


By Gary H. Anthes

(IDG) -- Imagine computers in a group providing disk storage for their users, transparently swapping files and optimizing their collective performance, all with no central administration. But the machines providing this pool of virtual storage dare not trust one another completely. Indeed, a hacker takes over one of them and ruthlessly begins attacking others in the group.

But not to worry. Thanks to an experimental operating system technology called Byzantine fault-tolerant protocols, users and their data are protected.

That scenario is part of the Farsite project at Microsoft Corp. Farsite is just one of several projects at Microsoft Research and other labs around the world that will render operating systems all but unrecognizable in 10 years. Farsite embodies several characteristics -- such as fault tolerance, self-tuning and robust security -- that will distinguish operating systems of the future. INFOCENTER
Related Stories
Visit an IDG site search

Farsite is a serverless, distributed system that doesn't assume mutual trust among its client computers. Although there's no central server machine, the system as a whole looks to users like a single file server. High reliability and security are ensured because each file has one or more encrypted and digitally signed replicas elsewhere in the cluster.

The target environment for Farsite is an organization in 2006 with 100,000 computers, 10 billion files and 10 petabytes (10,000TB) of data.

While Farsite is aimed at data storage, the Odyssey project at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh is focused on making operating systems more mobile. Computer science professor Mahadev Satyanarayanan envisions operating systems that are "application-aware" and can tailor the delivery of resources such as bandwidth and battery power accordingly.

For example, imagine a mobile user getting full-motion color video via a high-bandwidth wireless network, but then the mobile computer passes into the shadow of a building. "So the operating system alerts the application and says, 'I know you wanted 2M bit/sec., but right now, life is grim. The best I can give you is 100K bit/sec.,' " Satyanarayanan says. "The application has to have a notion of lower fidelity; it has to know it can't show it at 10 frames a second in color, but it can show it at two frames a second in black and white."

Satyanarayanan describes it as a "collaborative relationship" in which operating systems monitor resources and help applications adapt to them. His research group is building application awareness into Linux and has already proved the collaborative concept on a small scale. The needs of mobile computing will remake operating systems over the next five to seven years, he says.

Meanwhile, IBM Research in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., is hard at work making operating systems more scalable. It's extending Linux÷and developing operating system kernels to run under it÷to control a computer with 65,000 processors. As part of its $100 million Blue Gene research project, IBM plans to build a computer operating at 1 quadrillion floating-point operations per second to attack problems such as protein folding.

Blue Gene is "the ultimate test" for many of the principles unfolding in IBM's Autonomic Computing initiative, says Bill Pulleyblank, director of exploratory server systems at IBM Research. The program aims to make operating systems "self-optimizing, self-configuring, self-healing and self-protecting," like the human body's autonomic nervous system, he says.

IBM envisions "goal-oriented interfaces" between users and the operating system, Pulleyblank says. "Instead of [the application] saying, 'Hey, operating system, give me more memory or more disk space,' it says, 'The average response time I need on these transactions must be at most 10msec. Do it.' "

Such goal-oriented relationships will make it easier to write application software and will make it run more efficiently, Pulleyblank says.

The view from Redmond

Microsoft says that within 10 years, operating systems will have the following characteristics:

  • Worldwide scalability. Logically, thereās just one system, but itās partitioned into many pieces in many places.
  • Seamless distribution. The operating system decides where data resides and where computation occurs.
  • Fault tolerance. The system transparently handles failures and the removal of resources, without loss of data or functionality.
  • Self-configuration and self-tuning. New resources are automatically assimilated, and the system optimizes its own performance and resource use.


• Microsoft Corp.

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top