Futuristic UC Berkeley operating system uniquely controls discrete 'manycore' resources

UC Berkeley’s Tessellation operating system can simultaneously support real-time, high-throughput parallel applications

AUSTIN, Texas -- Does the world need another operating system? Yes, according to the creative minds in the computer science department at the University of California at Berkeley, which have come up with one called the Tessellation Operating System that's intended to light up the future of the Internet of things.

John Kubiatowicz

John Kubiatowicz

At the Design Automation Conference (DAC) here this week, John Kubiatowicz, professor in the UC Berkeley computer science division, offered a preview of Tessellation, describing it as an operating system for the future where surfaces with sensors, such as walls and tables in rooms, for example, could be utilized via touch or audio command to summon up multimedia and other applications. The UC Berkeley Tessellation website says Tessellation is targeted at existing and future so-called "manycore" based systems that have large numbers of processors, or cores on a single chip. Currently, the operating system runs on Intel multicore hardware as well as the Research Accelerator for Multiple Processors (RAMP) multicore emulation platform.

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According to Kubiatowicz, Tessellation -- which is a math term for how shapes can be arranged to fill a plane without any gaps -- is an innovative OS that looks to define resources such as bandwidth for cloud storage, latency to response, and requests for database services in a continuous adaptive manner based on its concept of resource containers.

A key concept in Tessellation is the abstract idea of the "cell" as "a user-level software component with guaranteed resources," said Kubiatowicz during the session at DAC. Cells provide guaranteed fractions of system resources (such as processors, cache, network or memory bandwidth, fractions of system services). As part of this framework, the new OS makes use of a quality-of-service method and scheduling. There's a novel way to message information in lieu of moving data around. There are services for keyboard and mouse, and network services are measured to maximize throughput.

The idea is that if Tessellation catches on, one day there will be a "swarm of services," either local or in the cloud, that users can invoke. At this juncture, UC Berkeley's new "Swarm Lab" is swarming all over app development to see how far they can take Tessellation.

Edward Lee

Edward Lee

A lot of hopes are riding on what Kubiatowicz -- known as "Kubie" to his friends -- is spearheading with his team under the futuristic TerraSwarm project, said Edward Lee, also a UC Berkeley professor, who spoke during another DAC session on the topic of the Internet of things. Lee said if it's successful, it will provide an "open application development platform" that could form the basis for home-based automation innovation and much more in the future. "We'll all be surprised by what comes out of it," he predicted. He added some colleagues like to call it the "Unpad vision" because it can in theory work without a physical mobile device of any kind.

Is security an issue? Yes, Kubiatowicz acknowledges, suggesting cryptography, for one thing needs to be part of it.

In his closing keynote at DAC today, Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, a veteran of the design automation industry, who helped found Cadence and Synopsys, and now holds the Buttner Chair in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley, also predicted the world may see the "Swarm" concept take root. He added the Berkeley OS project is supported by Semiconductor Research Corp.

So just when will Tessellation and Swarm applications be unleashed upon the world? Kubiatowicz wouldn't be pinned down but said he anticipated "soon."

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: @MessmerE. Email: emessmer@nww.com.

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