operating systems are harder than quantum physics

Went to hear Tilak Agerwala talk on the “Future of Data Centers” and was struck again by the way in which system developers and chip architects find solving problems like quantum power leakage and manufacturing devices with 100 angstrom feature sizes to be easier than improving operating system performance or design. Seymour Cray used to crack that the purpose of operating systems was to degrade the performance of his machines and that’s more the case now than ever. Agerwala spoke about moving “images” (virtualizable binary images encapsulating applications and execution environment) around the “Clouds” of computing elements in vast linked datacenters that churn out heat at an appalling pace. And then we realize that these images are largely composed of operating systems designed for PCs or minicomputers that are too hard to modify. Jim Allchin, recently retired from Microsoft wrote two pertinent documents to think about here. The more recent was a letter. The less recent was a Ph.D. thesis which seems unavailable on the web on the Clouds operating system.