Bryan Cantrill

Bryan Cantrill is a software engineer who has spent a quarter of a century at the hardware/software interface. He is the co-founder and CTO of Oxide Computer Company, which is endeavoring to build a rack-scale computer for the post-cloud era. Prior to Oxide he spent nearly a decade at Joyent, a cloud computing pioneer; prior to Joyent, he spent fourteen years at Sun Microsystems, a now-defunct computer company that Bryan's ten-year-old daughter apparently thought was a brewery.

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United States


Oxide Computer Company







I have come to bury the BIOS, not to open it: The need for holistic systems
Bryan Cantrill

Historically, proprietary systems created the need for binary machine interfaces. This extended to the deepest layers of the system, where the PC BIOS was created to make machines look sufficiently identical to one another that an opaque blob -- the operating system -- could run on them. We enshrined these sedimented layers as "firmware", but in fact there is no such thing: this is merely proprietary, opaque software by another name.

The approach that we're taking at Oxide is radically different: instead of merely relying on marginally better implementations of dated abstractions, we are eliminating the abstractions entirely. Rather than have one operating system that boots another that boots another, we have returned the operating system to its roots as the software that abstracts the hardware: we execute a single, holistic system from first instruction to running user-level application code. This has, of course, been technically challenging, as it has required us to incorporate the lowest levels of machine initialization. But that our small team has prevailed also shows its viability: this is delicate, but it isn't impossible -- and indeed, having been to the mountaintop, we believe that not only is the holistic artifact more robust, the path was in fact faster than relying on a proprietary initialization layer.

In this talk, we will discuss our holistic approach: why we have taken it, the challenges that we faced, why we believe that this approach is increasingly viable in an all-open world -- and what we need out of CPU vendors to support such systems.

Main Room