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Thoughts on Conway’s Law and the Software Stack


Monday, March 25, 2019 · 4 min read

I’ve been talking to a total lot of oldsters in varied layers of the stack at some stage in my
funemployment. I wished to allotment one of many complications I’ve been taking into consideration
and presumably which you may well well presumably also non-public of some artful alternatives to resolve it.

Conway’s Law states “organizations which dangle systems … are constrained
to dangle designs which would be copies of the communication structures of these

At the same time as you occur to had been to note Conway’s Law to your total layers of the instrument stack and
open source instrument you’d ogle an field: There may well be no longer ample
communication between the a total lot of layers of instrument.

Let’s dive in impartial a shrimp to kind the order neat sure.

I’ve met a bunch of hardware engineers and I’ve made some extent about asking every
of them how they feel in regards to the exercise of a single chip for a total lot of customers. This
is, in any case, the exercise case of the cloud. All the hardware engineers both
chortle or are scared and the resounding reaction is “you’d be loopy to non-public
hardware turned into ever supposed to be feeble for surroundings apart a total lot of customers safely.”
Spectre and Meltdown proved this turned into appropriate as neatly. Speculative execution turned into
a characteristic supposed to kind processors sooner however turned into never thought of in
phrases of the vector of hacking one thing running multi-tenant compute,
bask in a cloud provider. Looks bask in the instrument and hardware layers ought to
better explain…

That’s only one example, let’s reverse the interplay. I’ve talked to a bunch
of firmware and kernel engineers and in declare that they’d all admire if the firmware from chip
vendors did much less complexity. To illustrate, it appears to be like bask in a unanimous vote among
firmware and kernel engineers that CPU vendors ought to no longer contain runtime
services or SMM with their firmware. Start source firmware and kernel developers
would moderately take care of those complications at their layer of the stack. Your total complexity
in the firmware results in skipped over bugs and odd behavior that can’t be
managed or debugged from the kernel developers layer and/or user dwelling. Now to no longer mention,
a total lot of CPU vendors firmware is proprietary so it’s essentially exhausting to know if
a bug is basically a firmware bug.

One other example may well perchance be the hack of SoftLayer. Hackers modified the
firmware on the BMC from a bare metal host the cloud provider turned into offering.
This reveals one other mistake in having blinders on and never being aware
of the opposite layers of the stack and the general system.

Let’s transfer up the stack impartial a shrimp to one thing I for my fragment dangle skilled.
I worked lots on container runtimes. I moreover dangle worked on kubernetes.
I turned into scared to search out other folks are running multi-tenant kubernetes clusters
with a total lot of clients processes, aka for surroundings apart untrusted processes. The architecture of kubernetes is
impartial no longer designed for this.

A accepted miscommunication is the “window dressing.” To illustrate, there may well be a
characteristic in kubernetes that prevents exec-ing into
containers. This is utilized by merely combating the
API name in kubernetes. If a person has get entry to to a cluster there are about 4 dozen varied
systems I will non-public of to exec precise into a container and bypass this “characteristic” and
kubernetes utterly. The utilization of
said “safety characteristic” in kubernetes by myself is no longer ample for safety in any appreciate.
This is a popular pattern.

All these complications aren’t minute by any methodology. They are miscommunications
at pretty a few layers of the stack. They are other folks pondering an interface or
characteristic is accurate when it’s merely a window dressing that may well perchance even be bypassed with
impartial impartial a shrimp more records in regards to the stack. I bask in the recommendation
Lea Kissner gave:
“decide the prolonged question, no longer only the tall question.” We ought to kind this more in general
when constructing systems.

The idea I’ve been noodling on is: how kind we solve this? Is that this one thing
a code web web hosting provider bask in GitHub ought to repair? But, that excludes your total
initiatives that aren’t on that platform. How kind we promote better communication
between layers of the stack? How can we automate a few of this away? Or is
the reply simply, dangle your total layers of the stack your self?

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