Microsoft researches low latency operating system for multicores

News 5 May, 2010

The curse of multiple cores is the higher latency on a machine. Microsoft Research is attempting to tackle this problem in its labs within an operating system.

Most machines now run mutli-core processors, which is great at increasing throughput. Unfortunately this increased activity also means latency occurs and the time your applications take to run can take its toll on your patience.

The Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge is attempting to address this problem with an operating system called “BarrelFish.”

Dr Andrew Herbert, managing director of the labs claims the key concept of the OS is to restrict communication between the cores to create a better timeline of actions.

“Rather than trying to give the illusion of everything being shared and accessible to all, we insist that the applications are much more explicit about their communications,” he said.

“The operating system understands the relationship between the resources and where the bottlenecks can be, and it takes its scheduling decisions about how it organises the work in the machine to respect those resources and those bottlenecks.”

This awareness of where the latency occurs and correct scheduling of how applications run – and on which cores – has led to impress results within the labs.

“You put the right things on the right processors in a way that they wont compete with each other [and] what was taking a few seconds to run will take milliseconds,” added Herbert.

“The kind of performance graphs we get out of systems like barrelfish [means] the latency holds much more constant even as the number of cores go up so you win both on increased throughput and also not having to sacrifice the latency to achieve it.”

Herbert admitted it was no prototype for the next version of Windows but conluded: “We hope many of the ideas will be taken into Microsoft’s operating systems.”