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MirageOS travels to OSCON'13: a trip report

By Richard Mortier - 2013-08-08

Now that Mirage OS is rapidly converging on a Developer Preview Release 1, we took it for a first public outing at OSCON'13, the O'Reilly Open Source Conference. OSCON is in its 15th year now, and is a meeting place for developers, business people and investors. It was a great opportunity to show MirageOS off to some of the movers and shakers in the OSS world.

Partly because MirageOS is about synthesising extremely specialised guest kernels from high-level code, and partly because both Anil and I are constitutionally incapable of taking the easy way out, we self-hosted the slide deck on Mirage: after some last-minute hacking -- on content not Mirage I should add! -- we built a self-contained unikernel of the talk.

This was what you might call a "full stack" presentation: the custom unikernel (flawlessly!) ran a type-safe network device driver, OCaml TCP/IP stack supporting an OCaml HTTP framework that served slides rendered using reveal.js. The slide deck, including the turbo-boosted screencast of the slide deck compilation, is hosted as another MirageOS virtual machine at decks.openmirage.org. We hope to add more slide decks there soon, including resurrecting the tutorial! The source code for all this is in the mirage-decks GitHub repo.

The Talk

The talk went down pretty well -- given we were in a graveyard slot on Friday after many people had left, attendance was fairly high (around 30-40), and the feedback scores have been positive (averaging 4.7/5) with comments including "excellent content and well done" and "one of the most excited projects I heard about" (though we are suspicious that just refers to Anil's usual high-energy presentation style...).

Probably the most interesting chat after the talk was with the Rust authors at Mozilla (@pcwalton and @brson) about combining the Mirage unikernel techniques with the Rust runtime. But perhaps the most surprising feedback was when Anil and I were stopped in the street while walking back from some well-earned sushi, by a cyclist who loudly declared that he'd really enjoyed the talk and thought it was a really exciting project -- never done something that achieved public acclaim from the streets before :)

Book Signing and Xen.org

Anil also took some time to sit in a book signing for his forthcoming Real World OCaml O'Reilly book. This is really important to making OCaml easier to learn, especially given that all the Mirage libraries are using it. Most of the dev team (and especially thanks to Heidi Howard who bravely worked through really early alpha revisions) have been giving us feedback as the book is written, using the online commenting system.

The Xen.org booth was also huge, and we spent quite a while plotting the forthcoming Mirage/Xen/ARM backend. We're pretty much just waiting for the Cubieboard2 kernel patches to be upstreamed (keep an eye here) so that we can boot Xen/ARM VMs on tiny ARM devices. There's a full report about this on the xen.org blog post about OSCon.

Galois and HalVM

We also stopped by the Galois to chat with Adam Wick, who is the leader of the HalVM project at Galois. This is a similar project to Mirage, but, since it's written in Haskell, has more of a focus on elegant compositional semantics rather than the more brutal performance and predictability that Mirage currently has at its lower levels.

The future of all this ultimately lies in making it easier for these multi-lingual unikernels to be managed and for all of them to communicate more easily, so we chatted about code sharing and common protocols (such as vchan) to help interoperability. Expect to see more of this once our respective implementations get more stable.

All-in-all OSCON'13 was a fun event and definitely one that we look forward returning to with a more mature version of MirageOS, to build on the momentum begun this year! Portland was an amazing host city too, but what happens in Portland, stays in Portland...