PostgreSQL and Databricks founders join forces for DBOS to create a new type of operating system


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Is it time for a new type of operating system? The founders of DBOS think so.

Back in 1986, Michael Stonebraker started the open-source PostgreSQL database project, which to this day remains one of the most active and popular database projects in use. Matei Zaharia created Apache Spark and is the co-founder of data lakehouse pioneer Databricks. The two luminaries, joined with a team of MIT and Stanford computer scientists to create DBOS, which is an acronym that stands for database-oriented operating system.

Today DBOS announced that it has raised $8.5 million in seed funding as well as the launch of its first product, DBOS Cloud, which provides a new type of cloud-native operating system for cloud application deployment. DBOS was developed to address the challenges of managing the massive state of modern operating systems. State in an operating system context is all about managing all the different tasks files and messages required for operations.

“DBOS came out of an MIT Stanford Research Project, which I started around three years ago,” Stonebraker told VentureBeat. “The state you have to keep track of has gone up by five or six orders of magnitude in the last 40 years, so without me saying another word, that means keeping track of operating system state is a database problem.”

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Turning the tables: In DBOS the database runs the operating system

Today, a database is a type of application that runs on top of an operating system, which in the cloud is often Linux. DBOS takes a radically different approach to operating systems by running the operating system on top of a high-performance database.

“Operating system services, such as messages, scheduling and file operations, those are all written in SQL on top of a very high-performance OLTP DBMS [Online Transaction Processing Database Management System],” Stonebraker explained. “Basically, this is the database guys taking over managing the state that you have to keep track of in an operating system.”

According to Stonebraker, the DBOS architecture offers enhanced security, simpler system administration and the ability to recover from ransomware attacks in seconds. DBOS is designed to cater to organizations that prioritize security, such as government agencies, financial services companies and forward-thinking startups and enterprises. 

Taking aim at Linux and Kubernetes etcd

The idea of managing the state in a database for operations in the cloud is not entirely new.

The open-source Kubernetes container orchestration system which is widely used as the foundation for cloud-native application deployments integrates the etcd key value store database as an integral component.

Stonebraker explained that DBOS provides a full database that has an SQL interface. He noted that DBOS manages both operating system state and application state transactionally within the same database, providing advantages like time travel debugging and security that are not available with separate technologies like etcd. Additionally, he argued that the complex components of Kubernetes are removed, simplifying the environment significantly compared to running etcd and Kubernetes together.

DBOS can potentially be a replacement for Linux, according to Stonebraker. Applications interface with DBOS via database operations rather than Linux system calls. That said, Stonebraker admitted that currently, DBOS is not a ‘bare-metal’ operating system like Linux. 

A bare metal operating system has a kernel that provides the necessary drivers and support to run on hardware. With DBOS, at least for now with the launch of DBOS Cloud, it runs on a virtual machine hypervisor, which abstracts an underlying bare metal operating system, that is often Linux. At launch, DBOS is using the open-source Firecracker hypervisor technology that was originally developed by Amazon Web Services (AWS).

DBOS at launch is also somewhat limited in the application programming languages it supports. Stonebraker said initially DBOS supports the Typescript language, though he said that additional languages could come in the future as needed.

DBOS is not a science project anymore

DBOS has been in development as a research effort since 2022. With the launch today, Stonebraker claims the technology is production-ready.

“We’ve spent almost a year taking the research prototype code, which was a science project, making it more robust, moving it to AWS, Firecracker and TypeScript, so it’s ready for primetime,” Stonebraker said. “This is not incremental anything, this is a revolution and you should think of this as the next generation operating system.”

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