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Soul of a New Machine: Rethinking the Server-Side Computer

Soul of a New Machine: Rethinking the Server-Side Computer

Talk given at Stanford's EE380 Computer Systems Colloquium on February 26, 2020 on what we're up to at Oxide Computer Company. Video: https://youtu.be/vvZA9n3e5pc

Bryan Cantrill

April 02, 2020

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  1. Soul of a New Machine Rethinking the Server-Side Computer Bryan

    Cantrill Oxide Computer Company
  2. Server-side computing, ca. 1961

  3. Server-side computing, ca. 1961 (cont.) Source: Martin Weik, A Third

    Survey of Domestic Electronic Digital Computing Systems (1961)
  4. Server-side computing, ca. 1975 Source: Retro-computing Society of Rhode Island

  5. Server-side computing, ca. 1999

  6. Server-side computing, ca. 2009

  7. Hyperscale computing, ca. 2009 Source: Stephen Shankland/CNET: Google uncloaks once-secret

    server (2009)
  8. Hyperscale computing, ca. 2020

  9. Server-side computing, ca. 2009

  10. Server-side computing, ca. 2020

  11. The problem • There remain good reasons to own and

    operate one’s own computer! • But the world has bifurcated: fit-for-purpose infrastructure for hyperscalers; rack-mounted personal computers for everyone else • Worse, the commercial server world is split between software-agnostic hardware and putatively hardware-agnostic software • Result is a cobbled-together system that the end-user is left to design, integrate, operate -- and support • Problems are up and down the stack; we need a new approach
  12. Towards a solution: Hardware/firmware • We need a real hardware

    root-of-trust, offering firmware attestation • We need a fit-to-purpose BMC, with much less surface area • We need host firmware confined to booting a host operating system • We need a true rack-scale design in which a top-of-rack switch is co-designed with compute and storage • We need this in a dense form factor that allows for efficient operation!
  13. Towards a solution: Software • Rack-scale designs necessitate integrated software:

    hypervisor, control plane, storage, ToR + API endpoints for both operator and developer • But the era of proprietary infrastructure software is over: it must be fully open and attested! • Much of what needs to be built is software, albeit at very low levels (hardware root-of-trust, service processor, boot software, etc.)
  14. Is a solution attainable? • On the one hand, there

    is an outrageous amount to be done, with many different problems that need to be solved concurrently... • But on the other, the solution can be tightly tailored: co-designing hardware with software allows for elimination of false generalities • And there are several interesting hardware and software trends that make a solution more attainable than it has been historically…
  15. Trends: Hardware components • The industry has recognized the need

    to collaborate on a hardware root-of-trust, e.g. Microsoft Cerberus, Google/lowRISC OpenTitan • The open EDA movement has made FPGA design and implementation easier than ever, e.g. Yosys, Chisel, SpinalHDL, Bluespec • RISC-V has allowed for free soft cores -- and the end of Moore’s Law has meant that these cores are viable for sophisticated software • Open firmware is arriving (at long last!) and being encouraged by the Open Compute Project
  16. Trends: System software components • Infrastructure software is entirely open

    source: many interesting production-grade components new in just the past few years! • And -- perhaps surprisingly -- there’s been a very important development in programming languages... • Rust may be the most important system software development in four decades: if C was portable assembly, Rust is safe C! • Small Rust-based systems like Tock show particular promise...
  17. Soul of a new computer company • We started Oxide,

    a computer company in Emeryville, California • Raised seed capital end of 2019, ramping team now (Feb. 2020) • Aiming for functional prototypes in 2021, customer systems in 2022 • We are looking for like minds and kindred spirits! • Learn more about Oxide at https://oxide.computer • Check out our podcast, On the Metal!