UniK: Isolating Processes and Reducing Complexity


Unikernels aren’t a new concept; the stripped-down, library-specific application machine images have been around for decades.  But unikernels are enjoying a renaissance thanks to cloud computing; they offer major efficiencies in resource use and provide a tiny attack service for nefarious online activities. At CloudNativeCon in Seattle in November, Idit Levine presented the open source project UniK (pronounced “unique”) and announced new features to make unikernel creation more attractive and viable, both for cloud computing and Internet of Things devices.

Unikernels haven’t been popular, historically, because they’re not easy to create. Narrowing down the essential libraries and drivers for a unikernel from the full application stack has made unikernels a less attractive option for some developers. That’s the problem UniK is trying to solve, according to Levine, who is the CTO of the Cloud Management Division at Dell EMC, and a member of the technical advisory board for the Cloud Foundry Foundation.

“What we wanted to do is make it easy for you do it, so we will do all the hard work for you, and that’s exactly what UniK is about,” Levine said.

Just as Kubernetes creates application containers for clusters through a simple command interface, UniK is a tool to compile application sources into unikernels. By using unikernels instead of virtual machines, OS kernels can be avoided altogether, saving significant computing resources — and money.

Levine said unikernels mesh very well with microservices architecture; the unikernel runs a single process for a single user, and that’s the same philosophy as microservices, isolating processes and decoupling APIs.

“In order to make something like this we need to make some design choice, and our design choice was, we’re going to run only one single process,” Levine said. “If you’re running one single process and one user, which is what we’re doing in microservices architecture today, then we can be very, very smart about reducing a lot of the complexity.”

UniK offers builds for several different operating systems (MirageOS, IncludeOS, OSv, et al.), types of hardware (Intel chipsets or ARM for IoT devices), and cloud infrastructures (AWS, OpenStack, and Google Cloud), and now fully supports Kubernetes. Levine said the whole goal was to let developers choose what works best for them.

The project team is adding more compatibility all the time; Levine welcomed anyone to join the project and contribute.

For more information, watch the complete presentation below:

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