Application Performance and Flexibility on Exokernel Systems

Proceedings of the 16th Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, October 1997, pp. 52-65

M. Frans Kaashoek, Dawson R. Engler, Gregory R. Ganger, Héctor M. Briceño, Russell Hunt, David Mazières, Thomas Pinckney, Robert Grimm,
John Jannotti and Kenneth MacKenzie

The exokernel operating system architecture safely gives untrusted software efficient control over hardware and software resources by separating management from protection. This paper describes an exokernel system that allows specialized applications to achieve high performance without sacrificing the performance of unmodified UNIX programs. It evaluates the exokernel architecture by measuring end-to-end application performance on Xok, an exokernel for Intel x86-based computers, and by comparing Xok's performance to the performance of two widely-used 4.4BSD UNIX systems (FreeBSD and OpenBSD). The results show that common unmodified UNIX applications can enjoy the benefits of exokernels: applications either perform comparably on Xok/ExOS and the BSD UNIXes, or perform significantly better. In addition, the results show that customized applications can benefit substantially from control over their resources (e.g., a factor of eight for a Web server). This paper also describes insights about the exokernel approach gained through building three different exokernel systems, and presents novel approaches to resource multiplexing.

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