Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

Devices in a multi-service operating system

Paul Ronald Barham

October 1996, 131 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted June 1996 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Churchill College.


Increases in processor speed and network and device bandwidth have led to general purpose workstations being called upon to process continuous media data in real time. Conventional operating systems are unable to cope with the high loads and strict timing constraints introduced when such applications form part of a multi-tasking workload. There is a need for the operating system to provide fine-grained reservation of processor, memory and I/O resources and the ability to redistribute these resources dynamically. A small group of operating systems researchers have recently proposed a “vertically-structured” architecture where the operating system kernel provides minimal functionality and the majority of operating system code executes within the application itself. This structure greatly simplifies the task of accounting for processor usage by applications. The prototype Nemesis operating system embodies these principles and is used as the platform for this work.

This dissertation extends the provision of Quality of Service guarantees to the I/O system by presenting an architecture for device drivers which minimises crosstalk between applications. This is achieved by clearly separating the data-path operations, which require careful accounting and scheduling, and the infrequent control-path operations, which require protection and concurrency control. The approach taken is to abstract and multiplex the I/O data-path at the lowest level possible so as to simplify accounting, policing and scheduling of I/O resources and enable application-specific use of I/O devices.

The architecture is applied to several representative classes of device including network interfaces, network connected peripherals, disk drives and framestores. Of these, disks and framestores are of particular interest since they must be shared at a very fine granularity but have traditionally been presented to the application via a window system or file-system with a high-level and coarse-grained interface.

A device driver for the framestore is presented which abstracts the device at a low level and is therefore able to provide each client with guaranteed bandwidth to the framebuffer. The design and implementation of a novel client-rendering window system is then presented which uses this driver to enable rendering code to be safely migrated into a shared library within the client.

A low-level abstraction of a standard disk drive is also described which efficiently supports a wide variety of file systems and other applications requiring persistent storage, whilst providing guaranteed rates of I/O to individual clients. An extent-based file system is presented which can provide guaranteed rate file access and enables clients to optimise for application-specific access patterns.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Barham, Paul Ronald},
  title = 	 {{Devices in a multi-service operating system}},
  year = 	 1996,
  month = 	 oct,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-403}