Friday, 22 January 2016

Microscaling Unikernels

We were really happy yesterday to hear the news Unikernel Systems have joined Docker. We've seen Anil and Justin present on unikernels many times and been excited by their vision for unikernels. The hope is that by joining with Docker they can move unikernels from being a niche technology into widespread usage. Given Docker's success in bringing containers into wider usage there is reason to be optimistic.

We're also excited about the possibilities for microscaling using unikernels. With Force12 we're using the much faster startup times (1-2 secs) of containers compared to VMs. This makes it possible to scale containers in real time based on current demand. Unikernels start even faster and can be booted in milliseconds. This would make it possible to boot unikernels in response to incoming requests.

However currently working with unikernels is hard. Several of the major projects (MirageOS, LING and HalVM) are designed to run on the Xen hypervisor. EC2 also runs on Xen and supports running your own kernel. So its possible now to boot a unikernel on EC2 but it's not easy and they certainly can't be run in production.

This is where the acquisition by Docker really excites us. Workflow and open standards are an essential part of whether unikernels will be successful. Also not all workloads are suitable for unikernels. A lot of existing applications designed for the Linux or Windows kernel will never run as a unikernel. So a unified ecosystem for containers and unikernels makes a lot of sense.

For Force12 and microscaling in general this is great news. As we need to be able to launch an application quickly whether its packaged as a container or a unikernel.

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