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Roll Out, Roll Back, Roll On: Internet Suspend/Resume

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Sci-fi technology aspects of this story may ignite user imagination about the future, but Internet Suspend/Resume has real benefits to offer IT departments in the near term.

Some day, your computing environment—including operating system, applications, data, desktop icons, and last cursor position—could appear on a "blank" computer near you.

What Is Internet Suspend/Resume (IS/R)?

You wake up and deal with a couple of critical email messages, look over the report you finished writing last night, and munch a banana muffin as you get halfway through reading an article about your HMO outsourcing your primary care to physicians overseas. (It could be worse—it could be your job, right?) The boss interrupts the story with a call to come in early; the meeting for which you prepared that report has been moved up. You click Suspend on your home computer, leave it on the desk among your Pez dispensers and NakNak figures, and hit the road barehanded.

When you walk into your office, you resume work on a screen that looks like the one you had on your PC at home twenty minutes ago—or nearly: You quickly glance at email for anything new and important since you left home. One message is new. You notice another sitting in the out box that you started before thinking of the muffin, so you wrap that one up and hit Send, minimize the HMO outsourcing story to finish reading later, and make a last-minute change to the formatting of the report for the meeting. Neither home nor office used either "takeover" software or thin-client computing, but worked instead from a local instantiation of a virtual machine state, from the operating system to the cursor (see Figure 1).

Figure 1Figure 1 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, IS/R is able to provide the low-latency interactivity that users have come to expect. (Image and legend: Intel Corporation.)

The day goes well. After work, you stop for coffee at a corner shop and choose a computing screen table so you can pull up your Windows environment again and finish reading that HMO outsourcing story and other news. A story about Linux reminds you of something on your Linux laptop back home, so you click Suspend, saving your Windows machine state, and bring up your Linux laptop's environment beneath the table's glass, between the coffee cup and sausage plate. Everything is just as you left it—down to the design for your fishing boat left open in GIMP.

We all know that scenario isn't going to happen: Coffee shops don't serve sausage plates. But Internet Suspend/Resume (IS/R) is already working in prototype at the Intel R&D Lab in Pittsburgh, near Carnegie Mellon University. Intel's Pittsburgh lab is one of four "open collaboratives" near universities—where professors come to direct projects, students volunteer, and scientists from around the world contribute in the spirit of new frontiers. The three other labs are near the University of Washington, the University of California at Berkeley, and Cambridge University. Intel wants to see the "stone soup" stirred by industry, university, and the global research community brim with the kind of innovations found at Bell Labs, or the PARC Xerox in the 1970s.


You may recall the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) as the birthplace of Ethernet and the mouse, the place where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates saw the mother of modern graphical user interfaces—the Alto computer system—in the seventies, before the two "were" Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

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