DBOS could be an operating system breakthrough

Today: Two data industry legends trot out a new idea for the server operating system, why Microsoft's security lapses could start a customer exodus, and the quote of the week.

DBOS could be an operating system breakthrough
Photo by Jill Heyer / Unsplash

Welcome to Runtime! Today: Two data industry legends trot out a new idea for the server operating system, why Microsoft's security lapses could start a customer exodus, and the quote of the week.

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I heard you liked databases and operating systems

Throughout decades of change in enterprise tech, Linux has remained the foundation. Even Microsoft went all-in on Linux as the operating system for the cloud, and it's impossible to imagine anyone working on a greenfield application choosing anything other than their preferred flavor of Linux as the base.

But this week Mike Stonebraker (creator of Ingres and Postgres) and Matei Zaharia (co-founder and CTO of Databricks) unveiled DBOS, a new company and server operating system that features a database at its heart. It's a clear break from the status quo, which solves some difficult problems and presents some interesting opportunities assuming it works as advertised.

  • In a blog post, Stonebraker outlined how operating systems are being asked to juggle too many tasks in the modern distributed-systems world: "The state an operating system must maintain (files, processes, threads, messages, etc.) has increased in size by about 6 orders of magnitude since I began using Unix on a PDP-11/40 in 1973."
  • Something has to manage that activity, and after Stonebraker heard Zaharia describe how Databricks started using a database to bypass what is traditionally the responsibility of the operating system, DBOS emerged.
  • Like most applications, databases usually run on top of operating systems, which manage the resources they need to get the job done.
  • But DBOS implemented a database inside the operating system to manage the complex array of states it needs to know to run software effectively.

Stonebraker outlined several benefits of this approach.

  • According to the company, DBOS offers the same performance as Linux but adds additional capabilities, such as fault-tolerance, transactions, and built-in observability.
  • It also promises to make disaster recovery much easier because the operating system and application state will be saved in an easy-to-access database.
  • And unlike Linux, it was designed to scale across multiple nodes, which means users wouldn't need to bother with Kubernetes to orchestrate Linux containers across multiple operating environments.

The company also launched DBOS Cloud, which is aimed squarely at AWS's Lambda serverless development platform. It's limited at the moment to stateful Typescript applications, but it reclaims the original definition of "serverless" when it meant functions, not managed infrastructure.

  • DBOS Cloud was actually built atop Firecracker, the multitenant version of Lambda's underlying architecture that AWS released as an open-source project in 2018, and runs on AWS.
  • But unlike Lambda, DBOS Cloud can handle transactional workloads because it has a built-in database.
  • And it comes with a debugging feature DBOS is calling "time travel," which allows users to quickly revert back to a previous state to fix hard-to-reproduce bugs.

With billions of dollars invested in Linux and Kubernetes applications, DBOS is going to need a lot more than the $8.5 million seed funding round it raised this week to make a dent in enterprise tech.

  • But the company is also playing up the security features of the operating system as the world continues to grapple with ransomware and supply-chain attacks.
  • I almost never share canned quotes from press releases, but if DBOS can back up this statement from co-founder Michael Coden, security-minded developers will at least kick the tires.
  • "By simplifying the cloud application stack, DBOS greatly reduces the attack surface of cloud applications," he said. "On top of that, DBOS enables self-detection of cyberattacks within seconds without the use of expensive external analytics tools, and it can restore itself to a pre-attack state in minutes."
  • Now all the company has to do is persuade basically every developer in the world to completely rewrite their applications; or, failing that, provide a clear road map for new applications to follow.

Entra? Exit

Microsoft has taken great steps over the past year — in between managing OpenAI and stoking the hype cycle of a generation — toward renewing its commitment to security after a series of high-profile breaches and missteps. Some prominent customers are not waiting for that commitment to be realized.

The U.S. Department of State moved data into AWS and Google Cloud following last year's devastating Azure breach that allowed Chinese hackers to steal emails and other information from the Department of Commerce, according to The Information. And it is apparently considering "possible bigger cloud deals" with Microsoft's competitors amid growing concerns about its ability to keep government information secure.

Microsoft was hacked last year through flaws in Entra ID, which used to be known as Azure Active Directory and is the only login software Microsoft will allow customers of Office and Windows to use despite several alternatives. That makes it a lucrative business, but if customers as prominent as the State Department aren't willing to risk managing their login information with that software, the strategy could backfire.

Quote of the week

"Hadoop was an insane idea, it's like people waking up after a bender and being like, 'what were we thinking?'" — Fivetran CEO George Fraser, not-so-fondly recalling data tools of years past.

The Runtime roundup

Somebody at Broadcom forced CEO Hock Tang to acknowledge customer "unease" about its handling of the VMware acquisition without actually apologizing for anything in a blog post Thursday.

HashiCorp is talking to other companies about a possible sale, Bloomberg reported Friday, but those talks appear to be in the early stages.

Thanks for reading — see you Tuesday!

This post was updated Saturday with the correct spelling of Mike Stonebraker's name.

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