Книга: Distributed operating systems

7.1.3. The Amoeba System Architecture

7.1.3. The Amoeba System Architecture

Before describing how Amoeba is structured, it is useful first to outline the kind of hardware configuration for which Amoeba was designed, since it differs somewhat from what most organizations presently have. Amoeba was designed with two assumptions about the hardware in mind:

1. Systems will have a very large number of CPUs.

2. Each CPU will have tens of megabytes of memory.

These assumptions are already true at some installations, and will probably become true at almost all corporate, academic, and governmental sites within a few years.

The driving force behind the system architecture is the need to incorporate large numbers of CPUs in a straightforward way. In other words, what do you do when you can afford 10 or 100 CPUs per user? One solution is to give each user a personal 10-node or 100-node multiprocessor.

Although giving everyone a personal multiprocessor is certainly a possibility, doing so is not an effective way to spend the available budget. Most of the time, nearly all the processors will be idle, but some users will want to run massively parallel programs and will not be able to harness all the idle CPU cycles because they are in other users' personal machines.

Instead of this personal multiprocessor approach, Amoeba is based on the model shown in Fig. 7-1. In this model, all the computing power is located in one or more processor pools. A processor pool consists of a substantial number of CPUs, each with its own local memory and network connection. Shared memory is not required, or even expected, but if it is present it could be used to optimize message passing by doing memory-to-memory copying instead of sending messages over the network.


Fig. 7-1. The Amoeba system architecture.

The CPUs in a pool can be of different architectures, for example, a mixture of 680x0, 386, and SPARC machines. Amoeba has been designed to deal with multiple architectures and heterogeneous systems. It is even possible for the children of a single process to run on different architectures.

Pool processors are not "owned" by any one user. When a user types a command, the operating system dynamically chooses one or more processors on which to run that command. When the command completes, the processes are terminated and the resources held go back into the pool, waiting for the next command, very likely from a different user. If there is a shortage of pool processors, individual processors are timeshared, with new processes being assigned to the most lightly loaded CPUs. The important point to note here is that this model is quite different from current systems in which each user has exactly one personal workstation for all his computing activities.

The expected presence of large memories in future systems has influenced the design in many ways. Many time-space trade-offs have been made to provide high performance at the cost of using more memory. We will see examples later.

The second element of the Amoeba architecture is the terminal. It is through the terminal that the user accesses the system. A typical Amoeba terminal is an X terminal, with a large bit-mapped screen and a mouse. Alternatively, a personal computer or workstation running X windows can also be used as a terminal. Although Amoeba does not forbid running user programs on the terminal, the idea behind this model is to give the users relatively cheap terminals and concentrate the computing cycles into a common pool so that they can be used more efficiently.

Pool processors are inherently cheaper than workstations because they consist of just a single board with a network connection. There is no keyboard, monitor, or mouse, and the power supply can be shared by many boards. Thus, instead of buying 100 high-performance workstations for 100 users, one might buy 50 high-performance pool processors and 100 X terminals for the same price (depending on the economics, obviously). Since the pool processors are allocated only when needed, an idle user only ties up an inexpensive X terminal instead of an expensive workstation. The trade-offs inherent in the pool processor model versus the workstation model were discussed in Chap. 4.

To avoid any confusion, the pool processors do not have to be single-board computers. If these are not available, a subset of the existing personal computers or workstations can be designated as pool processors. They also do not need to be located in one room. The physical location is actually irrelevant. The pool processors can even be in different countries, as we will discuss later.

Another important component of the Amoeba configuration consists of specialized servers, such as file servers, which for hardware or software reasons need to run on a separate processor. In some cases a server is able to run on a pool processor, being started up as needed, but for performance reasons it is better to have it running all the time.

Servers provide services. A service is an abstract definition of what the server is prepared to do for its clients. This definition defines what the client can ask for and what the results will be, but it does not specify how many servers are working together to provide the service. In this way, the system has a mechanism for providing fault-tolerant services by having multiple servers doing the work.

An example is the directory server. There is nothing inherent about the directory server or the system design that would prevent a user from starting up a new directory server on a pool processor every time he wanted to look up a file name. However, doing so would be horrendously inefficient, so one or more directory servers are kept running all the time, generally on dedicated machines to enhance their performance. The decision to have some servers always running and others to be started explicitly when needed is up to the system administrator.

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