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FlexOS: Towards Flexible OS Isolation

by   Hugo Lefeuvre, et al.

At design time, modern operating systems are locked in a specific safety and isolation strategy that mixes one or more hardware/software protection mechanisms (e.g. user/kernel separation); revisiting these choices after deployment requires a major refactoring effort. This rigid approach shows its limits given the wide variety of modern applications' safety/performance requirements, when new hardware isolation mechanisms are rolled out, or when existing ones break. We present FlexOS, a novel OS allowing users to easily specialize the safety and isolation strategy of an OS at compilation/deployment time instead of design time. This modular LibOS is composed of fine-grained components that can be isolated via a range of hardware protection mechanisms with various data sharing strategies and additional software hardening. The OS ships with an exploration technique helping the user navigate the vast safety/performance design space it unlocks. We implement a prototype of the system and demonstrate, for several applications (Redis/Nginx/SQLite), FlexOS' vast configuration space as well as the efficiency of the exploration technique: we evaluate 80 FlexOS configurations for Redis and show how that space can be probabilistically subset to the 5 safest ones under a given performance budget. We also show that, under equivalent configurations, FlexOS performs similarly or better than several baselines/competitors.


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