Imagine a world where computers become so ubiquitous that the idea of carrying a laptop will almost be laughable, a world where any computer could be your computer! According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this is the goal of Intel Research Pittsburgh's Internet Suspend/Resume (ISR) project, a project that may one day let your work jump from computer to computer without interruption by using Internet, distributed file systems, and virtual machines. When the non-proprietary technology becomes available, a user will suspend a task on the computer he's working on, and resume this work using another computer in another part of a city or several thousand miles away. The second system will look identical to the first one, with the same files and applications opened. This technology would also ease OS upgrades or eliminate the pain coming from a hard disk failure. The project has even a feature named Rollback which would permit to go back in time, eliminating these pesky viruses. A pilot test will start this fall, so don't expect to be able to use ISR before a while.
Below is a diagram coming from the ISR Project Home Page.
||Virtual machine technology is used to capture the user's computing environment at the time of suspend. This environment consists of the user's operating system, applications, data files, customizations and the current execution state. By leveraging virtual machines, this state is re-instantiated directly on the machine at the resume site. This is not a thin-client approach, all process execution and computation takes place on hardware near the user. Therefore, ISR is able to provide the low-latency interactivity that users have come to expect. (Credit for image and legend: Intel Corporation).|
And here are some short excerpts from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.
By taking advantage of the Internet, distributed file systems and a concept called virtual machines, Internet Suspend/Resume allows a user to stop, or suspend, work on one computer and then move to another computer, perhaps at home, or even across the country, and instantly resume that work.
The computer desktop at the second machine would appear identical to what appeared on the first machine's monitor when work was suspended ---- the same programs and files open, even the cursor at the same spot.
It sounds simple, maybe even trivial to some. "People don't realize how hard we have to work to do this," said Mahadev Satyanarayanan, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist who just ended a two-year stint as the Intel lab's founding director. [Note that he prefers to be called Satya.]
What else can we expect from this project?
The same technology that helps Internet Suspend/Resume move an individual's computing environment from one machine to another also can make it painless to upgrade machines. Work on one computer would simply be suspended, the computer box disconnected and the new computer put in its place; the user could hit the resume button and have all of his programs and files available on the new machine.
Likewise, the failure of the computer's hard drive, now a major catastrophe, would be no big deal. The user could resume work on another computer until the hard drive was replaced, and then simply resume work on the repaired machine with the loss of little if any data.
And with a newly developed feature called Rollback, Internet Suspend/Resume would provide an almost painless antidote for computer viruses. If a user's computer becomes infected, she could use the Rollback feature to go back to an arbitrary point in time prior to the infection and resume work there, deleting the subsequent work -- and the virus.
When will this technology be available?
The Pittsburgh researchers will begin to see how well this all works in the real world this fall, when they begin a two-year pilot test of Internet Suspend/Resume that eventually will include up to 100 volunteers from CMU's computer science and electrical engineering departments.
"We do not know at this point exactly how this will be transformed into a commercial product," said Satyanarayanan, noting the Intel lab's work is not proprietary. But the simplicity of the system, at least from the user's point of view, suggests it could have broad impact.
"It is the simple ideas," he added, "that change the world."
The article also briefly discusses another project using virtual machines at Stanford University and called The Collective, "A Virtual Appliance Computing Infrastructure." Its goal is to simplify system administrative tasks.
[The objective is] to develop a new computing system architecture that is secure, reliable, easy to administer, and provides ubiquitous access to users' computing environments.
For more information, please visit their site.
Sources: Byron Spice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 5, 2004; Intel Research Laboratory at Pittsburgh; The Collective, Stanford University