157: GreyBeards talk commercial cloud computer with Bryan Cantrill, CTO, Oxide Computer

Bryan Cantrill (@bcantrill), CTO, Oxide Computer was a hard man to interrupt once started but the GreyBeards did their best to have a conversation. Nonetheless, this is a long podcast. Oxide are making a huge bet on rack scale computing and have done everything they can to make their rack easy to unbox, setup and deploy VMs on.

They use commodity parts (AMD EPYC CPUs) and package them in their own designed hardware (server) sleds, which blind mate to networking and power in the back of the own designed rack. They use their own OS Helios (OpenSolaris derivative) with their own RTOS, Hubris, for system bringup, monitoring and the start of their hardware root of trust. And of course, to make it all connect easie,r they designed and developed their own programmable networking switch. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Oxide essentially provides rack hardware which supports EC2-like compute and EBS-like storage to customers. It also has Terraform plugins to support infrastructure as code. In addition, all their software is completely API driven.

Bryan said time and time again, developing their own hardware and software made everything easier for them and their customers. Customers pay for hardware but there’s absolutely NO SOFTWARE LICENSING FEEs, because all their software is open source.

For example, the problem with AMI bios and UEFIs is their opacity, There’s really no way to understand what packages are included in its root of trust because it’s proprietary. Brian said one company UEFI they examined, had URL’s embedded in firmware. It seemed odd to have another vendor’s web pages linked to their root of trust.

Bryan said they did their own switch to reduce integration and validation test time. The Oxide rack supports all internal networking, compute sled to compute sled, and ToR switch (with no external cabling) and has 32 networking ports to connect the rack to the data center’s core networking.

As for storage, Bryan said each of the 10 U.2 NVMe drives in their compute sled is a separate, ZFS file system and customer data is 3 way mirrored across any of them. ZFS also provides end to end checksumming across all customer data for IO integrity.

Bryan said Oxide Computer rack bring up is 1) plug it in to core networking and power, 2) power it on, 3) attach a laptop to their service processor, 4) SSH into it, 5) Run a configuration script and your ready to assign VMs. He said that from the time an Oxide Rack hits your dock until you are up and firing up VMs, could be as short as an HOUR.

The Rust programming language is the other secret to Oxide’s success. More to the point their company is named after Rust (oxide get it). Apparently just about any software they developed is written in Rust.

The question for Oxide and every other computer and storage vendor is – do you believe that on premises computing will continue for the foreseeable future. The GreyBeards and Oxide believe yes. If not for compliance and better latency but also because it often costs less.

Bryan mentioned they have their own podcast, Oxide and Friends. On their podcast, they did a board bring up series (Tales from the Bring-Up Lab) and a series on taking their rack through FCC compliance (Oxide and the Chamber of Mysteries).

Bryan Cantrill, CTO, Oxide Computers

Bryan Cantrill is a software engineer who has spent over a quarter of a century at the hardware/software interface. He is the co-founder and CTO of Oxide Computer Company, the creator of the world’s first commercial cloud computer.

Prior to Oxide, he spent nearly a decade at Joyent, a cloud computing pioneer; prior to Joyent, he spent 14 years at Sun Microsystems.

Bryan received the Sc.B. magna cum laude with honors in Computer Science from Brown University, and is a MIT Technology Review 35 Top Young Innovators alumnus.

You can learn more about his work with Oxide at oxide.computer, or listen in on their weekly live show, Oxide and Friends (link above), on Discord or anywhere you get your podcasts.

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