March 30, 2017

More on the Intel Partnership

As announced at AsiaBSDCon 2017 in Tokyo, Intel is making a financial contribution and supporting the Foundation with access to resources to ensure FreeBSD is well supported on Intel platforms. Intel sees FreeBSD as a viable open-source operating system, and seeks broader collaboration between themselves, the Foundation, and the FreeBSD Community.

As part of this effort we will have access to new platforms under development, so that we can test FreeBSD early in the platform’s lifecycle and determine what work is required in FreeBSD for full support. Driven by common FreeBSD usage patterns much of this is focused on servers, but we are also investigating support requirements for desktop and laptop clients, including graphics and wireless chipsets.

We’re also researching new and emerging technologies, to ensure that FreeBSD remains relevant and competitive as the hardware landscape evolves. The first effort in this domain is initial support for Nonvolatile DIMM (NVDIMM) memory. NVDIMMs install into the same motherboard slot as standard DRAM memory, and function equivalently to DRAM while the computer is operating. Unlike DIMMs, they retain their content in the absence of power. In this way they function like solid-state drives (SSDs).

NVDIMMs present new challenges for FreeBSD, because DRAM and storage have had entirely different methods of access and performance. DRAM is volatile, has high throughput, low latency, supports random access patterns, and is accessed through the kernel’s Virtual Memory (VM) subsystem. Traditional storage is nonvolatile, has middling throughput and latency, poor random access performance, and is accessed through the disk subsystem.

NVDIMMs upend these characteristics: they’re nonvolatile, have low latency, and high throughput and random access performance. This will require an investigation of new interfaces in FreeBSD, to marry aspects of the VM and disk subsystems. Higher-level aspects of this work are an active topic in the research community, while we will begin by investigating lower-level interfaces to expose NVDIMMs to the rest of the operating system.

This is just the beginning of our partnership with Intel, and we look forward to working together on common goals for the benefit of the FreeBSD Project and community.

– Contributed by Ed Maste