AMP vs Virtualization

It just dawned on me recently (and it sure must have been obvious to those working with configuring AMP — Assymtric Multiprocessing Systems) that in an AMP setup, the operating systems involved actually know about each other and have to account for the fact that they are sharing a single processor chip with other operating systems. So you cannot just take two single-core operating system images from an existing multiple-processor (local memory) solution and put them on a single chip and things just work. You do need to prepare the boot process and find a way to nicely share the common I/O devices, timers, accelerator engines and other resources on the chip. This is materially different from a virtualized setup.


In a virtualization-based setup, you use a single hypervisor program that then controls several single-processor operating systems running on the machine. That hypervisor also takes care of allocating shared resources to the operating systems, sometimes by sharing a single physical resources, sometimes by only letting one operating system access a certain resource. So in this case, you can actually reuse existing OS images on a new multicore chip and transparently transform an existing system.

Too bad there is still no embedded processor with strong support for heavy-duty virtualization like this.

On the other hand, it might be a passing need. The transition of old applications to new hardware will always involve some rewrite and retouch, and if that means doing a bit of change in the OS setup to handle an AMP case nicely, it is probably not too expensive (compared to redoing applications on top of the OS to be truly SMP). And for virtualization, this means that you can use a Xen-style paravirtual approach where the OS is modified to run on top of a simple hypervisor.

Running and booting an unmodified binary install of an OS is likely more of a server/desktop problem than one for embedded applications. We are going to see virtualization support in hardware to help light-weight approaches be even more efficient, and also to tackle the security issues of rogue code getting into some OS image. Hardware support is needed to contain an OS that has been taken over by bad guys, no amount of cooperation between OSes in an AMP setting is going to prevent that.

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