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RedLeaf: Isolation and Communication in a Safe Operating System

Speaker Name: 
Anton Burtsev
Speaker Title: 
Assistant Adjunct Professor
Speaker Organization: 
UC Irvine
Start Time: 
Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 11:00am
End Time: 
Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 12:15pm
Via Zoom Link
Chen Qian


At least since the final Multics report in 1977, researchers identified the ability to isolate kernel subsystems as a critical mechanism improving security and reliability of the entire system. Unfortunately, despite many attempts to introduce isolation to the kernel, modern systems remain monolithic. Historically, software and hardware mechanisms remain prohibitively expensive for enforcing isolation of subsystems with tightest performance budgets. Fortunately, today, the balance of isolation and performance is changing with the development of Rust, a programming language that provides a unique combination of low-overhead safety and powerful ownership discipline. 

RedLeaf is a new operating system developed from scratch in Rust to explore the impact of language safety on operating system organization, and specifically the role of fine-grained isolation and its benefits. In contrast to commodity systems, RedLeaf does not rely on hardware address spaces for isolation and instead uses only the type and memory safety of the Rust language. RedLeaf introduces an abstraction of a language-based isolation domain that provides a unit of information hiding and fault isolation. Domains can be dynamically loaded and cleanly terminated, i.e., errors in one domain do not affect the rest of the system. Moreover, domain boundaries introduce minimal overhead even in the face of semantically-rich interfaces typical for language systems. 


RedLeaf is a microkernel system in which a collection of isolated domains implements functionality of the kernel: kernel subsystems, POSIX-like operating system personality, device drivers, and user applications. RedLeaf provides features typical for a modern kernel: multi-core support, dynamic loading of kernel extensions, POSIX-like user processes, and blazingly fast device drivers. Building on RedLeaf's isolation mechanisms, we demonstrate the possibility to transparently recover crashing device drivers. To demonstrate that Rust and fine-grained isolation introduces a practically-acceptable overhead, we develop efficient versions of 10Gbps Intel Ixgbe network and PCIe-attached solid state-disk NVMe drivers that match the performance of carefully-optimized, unsafe, user-level equivalents: DPDK and SPDK. 


Anton Burtsev received his B.S. and M.S. in Applied Mathematics from the National Technical University of Ukraine in 2000 and 2002, and his Ph.D. in Computer science from the University of Utah in 2013. Prior to joining the faculty of  the University of California, Irvine as an Assistant Adjunct Professor in 2016, he was a Research Assistant Professor and a research staff member at the University of Utah. Dr. Burtsev is a systems researcher with many years of first-hand experience in designing and building operating systems. His research interests include 1) operating systems, 2) cloud and operating system security, and 3) operating system support for modern low-latency datacenters and heterogeneous hardware.


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