Democratizing Distributed Systems with Metaparticle


The best way to take some of the difficulty out of distributed systems is to include the creation of infrastructure directly in code, rather than creating separate config files. Brendan Burns, a software engineer at Microsoft, presented his solution to this problem at KubeCon last November.

His project, called Metaparticle, is in its earliest stages, and so far Burns has been the only contributor. But, at its core, it’s the same as the compiler for a classic application.

“The basic idea is just like we had that compiler before for taking the source code and turning it into assembly language that then turns into machine instructions. We have the same kind of idea,” Burns said. “We have code, we turn it into an abstract syntax tree, we feed it into the orchestrator and the app pops out — the distributed app pops out the other side.”

During his presentation and demo, Burns said that as applications evolved into client/server applications, config files were separated from code. He said that “tortuous divorce” has led us to where we are now: creating distributed systems, like those with Kubernetes, has gotten too difficult.

“We’ve decided that abstraction is not worth our time,” Burns said. “It’s not that we can’t do it. It’s not that we’re not smart enough to figure out assembly language. It’s that if we were all still doing assembling language, I don’t think any of us would be in this room.

“Kubernetes literally would not exist if we were all still programming in assembly language and, yet, I think we’re writing our distributed systems in assembly,” Burns continued. “In talking about deploying this set of pods and this service and these pieces, the building blocks that we’re putting together, they’re not concepts. They’re just assembly language instructions. If we’re going to really build our systems and we’re gonna move on from where we are, it has to get easier. So the genesis for a lot of this work was to say, ‘How do we write our systems in code?’”

In his presentation, Burns used Node.js to demonstrate how distributed systems can be created in just a few lines of code. Through Metaparticle, Burns is hoping to make distributed systems easier to create and hoping more programmers will find ways to solve their problems using platforms like Kubernetes.

“We democratized mobile development,” Burns said. “We’ve democratized web development. We haven’t democratized distributed system development, and it’s time that we did.”

Watch the complete presentation below:

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