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September 25, 2009

Sandia computer scientists successfully boot one million Linux kernels as virtual machines

Computer scientists at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif., have for the first time successfully demonstrated the ability to run more than a million Linux kernels as virtual machines.

The Sandia work will be helped in future by being able to use bug free code for operating system kernels developed by the University of New South Wales.

Combined the two developments (mega simultaneous virtual kernels and bug free code) mean unprecendented levels of scalability.

The achievement will allow cyber security researchers to more effectively observe behavior found in malicious botnets, or networks of infected machines that can operate on the scale of a million nodes. Botnets, said Sandia’s Ron Minnich, are often difficult to analyze since they are geographically spread all over the world.

Sandia scientists used virtual machine (VM) technology and the power of its Thunderbird supercomputing cluster for the demonstration.

researchers had only been able to run up to 20,000 kernels concurrently (a “kernel” is the central component of most computer operating systems). The more kernels that can be run at once, he said, the more effective cyber security professionals can be in combating the global botnet problem. “Eventually, we would like to be able to emulate the computer network of a small nation, or even one as large as the United States, in order to ‘virtualize’ and monitor a cyber attack,” he said.

A related use for millions to tens of millions of operating systems, Sandia’s researchers suggest, is to construct high-fidelity models of parts of the Internet


This would also relate to being able to have complex simulations of a million people.



To arrive at the one million Linux kernel figure, Sandia’s researchers ran one kernel in each of 250 VMs and coupled those with the 4,480 physical machines on Thunderbird. Dell and IBM both made key technical contributions to the experiments, as did a team at Sandia’s Albuquerque site that maintains Thunderbird and prepared it for the project.

The capability to run a high number of operating system instances inside of virtual machines on a high performance computing (HPC) cluster can also be used to model even larger HPC machines with millions to tens of millions of nodes that will be developed in the future, said Minnich. The successful Sandia demonstration, he asserts, means that development of operating systems, configuration and management tools, and even software for scientific computation can begin now before the hardware technology to build such machines is mature.


Next Goal 100 million Virtual Machine Kernels
Sandia’s researchers plan to take their newfound capability to the next level.

“It has been estimated that we will need 100 million CPUs (central processing units) by 2018 in order to build a computer that will run at the speeds we want,” said Minnich. “This approach we’ve demonstrated is a good way to get us started on finding ways to program a machine with that many CPUs.” Continued research, he said, will help computer scientists to come up with ways to manage and control such vast quantities, “so that when we have a computer with 100 million CPUs we can actually use it.”


Before 2020, they could reach 10 billion Virtual machines or more than one for every person.


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