Interview With SGI

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Thoughts on the Past and Present

RWT: What were the challenges in getting Linux to scale so far (in terms of CPU count)? How much performance gain did all of the enhancements to Linux achieve (cumulatively)?

Jason: Linux is rapidly evolving and the developments ongoing in the 2.5/2.6 kernel tree have many things heading in the right direction. Internally we were skeptical about how Linux would scale initially. However, we have been very satisfied with the work the community has been doing to improve the performance of the operating system overall and have contributed to that effort where we can. There were some basic things that needed to be fixed initially, changing variable types for example, which was straightforward. The implementation of the O(1) scheduler was a more recent improvement that has been advantageous. A group of our engineers worked extensively on identifying bottlenecks in the locking mechanisms of the Linux kernel through an iterative process as we fixed problems and gained access to more hardware to build larger systems. Discontinuous memory work was another essential area, as well as, overall NUMA platform support. Overall we estimate the performance gain can be anywhere from 20-30% depending on the application. But most of this work is in the open source so overall everyone is benefiting.

RWT: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of Linux?

Jason: The strength of Linux is undoubtedly the community. It has really powered Linux to the top of the operating system world, made it ready to scale and robust for production use. In addition it is open source, available from multiple vendors, and enables collaboration and hardware vendor choice.

The current weakness of Linux as I see it has nothing to do with the operating system itself. It has more to do with corporate users risk adversity. It’s only been the last year or so that Linux has been considered a Tier 1 operating system by applications vendors and that has limited the broader success of Linux. By all accounts the analysts are saying that 2004 will be another break out year for Linux. We saw a big bump in Linux adoption in 1997 during the dot-com era, certainly with the growing support by hardware and application vendors, the 2.6 kernel arriving, and a growing base of happy production Linux users they’ll be right about 2004.

I think Linux has a lot to offer. If the Linux community and vendors keep doing what they’ve been doing I think Linux will become commonplace.

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