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Last update: 2008-11-09

End: 2009-01

Ksplice wins MIT $100k business plan contest

update the Linux kernel without rebooting

Uninterrupted updates offer vast improvement of security

Today, every mainstream operating system requires regular reboots in order to be up to date and secure. Since reboots cause downtime and disruption, people are forced into the uncomfortable dilemma of choosing between security, cost and convenience. The NLnet funded open source project KSplice offers a unique working solution to allow computers to safely operate with far less disruption. KSplice promises to reduce downtime by a order of magnitude -by updating the core operating systems kernel text while it is still running. This revolutionary technology significantly hinders network attackers by reducing the window of vulnerability during which computer systems are running software with known problems.

NLnet congratulates the team at KSplice Inc for winning the 20th anniversary of the annual MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition, leaving over 260 competing projects behind. NLnet has been sponsoring the project since late 2008, just four months after the inception of the company. "We believe KSplice has a lot of potential for making the internet a safer place", says Michiel Leenaars, director of Strategy at NLnet. "It is a great example of how open source enables new generations to improve significantly on technology which seems ubiquitous. The story of KSplice really reads like a movie plot: five clever students beat all the corporate developers to the punch and by and large solve a long standing issue in IT. It makes a great business case for stimulating students to work with open source, so they are allowed to innovate instead of allowed to just click within someone elses applications".

The KSplice project was started over three years ago when lead developer Jeff Arnold was working on MIT's servers and had to deal with a security update that arrived midweek. He decided to delay installing it until the weekend to avoid downtime while the servers were in heavy use. Unfortunately, the delay resulted in a security breach that required reinstalling all the system software. Arnold wrote an award-winning master's degree thesis about the subject matter, and this ultimately led to the development of a working solution. Technically, Ksplice creates rebootless updates that are based on traditional source code patches. These updates are as effective as traditional updates, but they can be applied seamlessly, with no downtime. While the Ksplice updating system is currently only available for computers running Linux, the code is written in a way that should make it very easy to transfer to Mac and Windows operating systems as well as to user space applications.