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Building Enzian: a research computer

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Academic research in rack-scale and datacenter computing today is hamstrung by lack of hardware. Cloud providers and hardware vendors build custom accelerators, interconnects, and networks for commercially important workloads, but university researchers are stuck with commodity, off-the-shelf parts.

Enzian is a series research computer being developed at ETH Zurich (in collaboration with Cavium and Xilinx) to tackle this problem, and is designed to allow as many different research use-cases as possible. By providing a powerful and flexible platform for computer systems research, Enzian aims to enable more relevant and far-reaching work on future compute platforms. A single Enzian board consists of a server-class ARMv8 SoC tightly coupled and cache-coherent with a large FPGA (eliminating PCIe), with about 0.5 TB DDR4 and nearly 500 Gb/s of network I/O either to the CPU (over Ethernet) or directly to the FPGA (potentially over custom protocols). Many Enzian boards can be connected in a rack-scale machine (either with or without a discrete switch).

I’ll talk about Enzian’s design, its intended use-cases, but also about the experience we have had building it over the last few years, and how this experience has itself informed our research.


Timothy Roscoe is a Full Professor in the Systems Group of the Computer Science Department at ETH Zurich, where he works on operating systems, networks, and distributed systems, including the Barrelfish research OS and the Strymon high-performance stream processor for datacenter monitoring. He received a PhD in 1995 from the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge, where he was a principal designer and builder of the Nemesis OS. After three years working on web-based collaboration systems at a startup in North Carolina, Mothy joined Sprint’s Advanced Technology Lab in Burlingame, California in 1998, working on cloud computing and network monitoring. He joined Intel Research at Nerkeley in April 2002 as a principal architect of PlanetLab, an open, shared platform for developing and deploying planetary-scale services. In September 2006 he spent four months as a visiting researcher in the Embedded and Real-Time Operating Systems group at National ICT Australia in Sydney, before joining ETH Zurich in January 2007. His current research interests include system software for modern hardware, formally specifying the hardware/software interface, and building Enzian, a research computer for systems software. He was named Fellow of the ACM in 2013 for contributions to operating systems and networking research.

This talk is part of the Computer Laboratory Systems Research Group Seminar series.

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