It’s becoming inevitable that most electronic devices will some day be connected to the Internet. We may joke about connected toasters and washing machines, but Internet-connected pacemakers already exist, so the stakes are rising.
However, with each big shift, we have a tendency to carry forward legacy technology into completely different environments, taking along obsolete assumptions about how to build and run such systems. The obvious example is deploying a full, multiuser OS as a VM in the cloud—even though it runs only one service. These ideas are gradually changing, helped by the shift toward microservices and containerization, but the transition is far from complete.
The Internet of Things presents an even more exotic environment for developers, who will need new tools and techniques to build, ship, and run applications—without having to relearn from scratch. One way of tackling this issue is to advance how we write our cloud software in a way that will lend itself to programming for the IoT. Microservices are a step in this direction, and unikernels in particular offer a fresh, clean-slate approach that can span both the cloud and the IoT. Overall, the impact of IoT could be as profound (and as surprising) as the World Wide Web was decades ago—as long as we get it right.
Amir Chaudhry covers the background as to how we build systems today and where the industry is moving and provides a demonstration of what unikernels can offer for programming the Internet of Things.
Amir Chaudhry works at Docker, where he helps make unikernels accessible to developers everywhere, and is the community manager for MirageOS. Most of Amir’s time is spent on open source efforts, and he’s a big fan of automation to maximize developer impact. In previous lives, he led operations at a medical device startup, created a seed investing program, and was a board observer. Amir also has a diverse academic background: he holds an MSci in physics and a PhD in neuroscience. When not working on unikernels, Amir is probably looking at the sky and wondering when he can next go skydiving.
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