US labs virtualise 1m Linux kernels

Sandia National Labs have simultaneously run more than a million Linux kernels on a single cluster, an accomplishment that could prove useful for anti-botnet research
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Researchers at the Sandia National Laboratories said on Tuesday that they have successfully run more than one million Linux kernels as virtual machines on a single high-performance cluster.

That capability could be used for research into stopping computer botnets, as well as for developing a better understanding of certain internet phenomena, modelling climate change, developing new medicines and researching more efficient-energy production, the researchers at the US Department of Energy lab said.

Sandia ran the project on Thunderbird, its Albuquerque-based, 4,480-node high-performance computer cluster. Researchers ran one kernel in each of 250 virtual machines on the cluster's nodes for a total of 1.12 million virtualised kernels.

Previously, researchers were only able to run up to 20,000 kernels simultaneously, according to Sandia computer scientist Ron Minnich. In the near term, Sandia plans to use large numbers of virtualised kernels to research the behaviour of botnets, since these are also made up of large numbers of computers.

"Eventually, we would like to be able to emulate the computer network of a small nation, or even one as large as the US, in order to 'virtualise' and monitor a cyberattack," Minnich said in a statement.

Another use for large numbers of virtualised kernels would be to construct high-fidelity models of parts of the internet.

"The sheer size of the internet makes it very difficult to understand in even a limited way," Minnich said. "By running actual operating-system instances to represent nodes on the internet, we will be able not just to simulate the functioning of the internet at the network level, but to emulate internet functionality."

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