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Do Microkernels Suck?

At the 2007 OLS, Christoph Lameter presented a talk titled "Extreme High Performance Computing or Why Microkernels Suck". Having more than a passing interest in microkernels, and having deployed one in a few (dozen? hundred?) million mobile phones, I found this somewhat intriguing, and started to analyse the argumentation.

I would like to share the result with the LCA community, to help people make up their own mind. In a nutshell, I think Christoph's work is a great contribution to Linux scalability, but knowing Linux doesn't mean you know understand microkernels. In fact, I will show that the paper is, as far as microkernels are concerned, essentially based on folklore rather than fact, and fails to provide any solid evidence for its assertions. Rather than starting a flame war, I will present and examine the facts, and discuss what conclusions can be drawn from them.

Project: Linux/microkernels 


Gernot Heiser

Gernot Heiser is founder and CTO of Open Kernel Labs (OK), a company developing and marketing embedded operating-systems and virtualisation technology. OK's technology is shipped on Qualcomm wireless chipsets, and powers an increasing number of mobile phones. Prior to founding OK, Gernot created and lead the Embedded, Real-Time and Operating Systems (ERTOS) research program at NICTA, the national center of excellence for information and communications technology, and has established ERTOS as a recognized world leader in embedded operating-systems technology. He continues in this position on a part-time basis, in order to ensure the strategic alignment of OK and ERTOS, and the smooth transfer of ERTOS research outcomes for commercialization in OK. Prior to NICTA's creation in 2003, Gernot was a full-time faculty member at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), where he created a suite of world-class OS courses, lead the development of several research operating systems, and built the group that provided the foundation for ERTOS and later OK. He still holds the position of Professor for Operating Systems at UNSW, the only such chair in Australia, and continues to teach advanced-level courses and supervise a large number of PhD students. Gernot Heiser holds a PhD from ETH Zurich.

Gernot Heiser

Gernot Heiser is founder and CTO of Open Kernel Labs (OK), a company developing and marketing embedded operating-systems and virtualisation technology. OK's technology is shipped on Qualcomm wireless chipsets, and powers an increasing number of mobile phones. Prior to founding OK, Gernot created and lead the Embedded, Real-Time and Operating Systems (ERTOS) research program at NICTA, the national center of excellence for information and communications technology, and has established ERTOS as a recognized world leader in embedded operating-systems technology. He continues in this position on a part-time basis, in order to ensure the strategic alignment of OK and ERTOS, and the smooth transfer of ERTOS research outcomes for commercialization in OK. Prior to NICTA's creation in 2003, Gernot was a full-time faculty member at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), where he created a suite of world-class OS courses, lead the development of several research operating systems, and built the group that provided the foundation for ERTOS and later OK. He still holds the position of Professor for Operating Systems at UNSW, the only such chair in Australia, and continues to teach advanced-level courses and supervise a large number of PhD students. Gernot Heiser holds a PhD from ETH Zurich.

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