Distributed Operating System

Distributed Operating System

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Updated on Mar 20, 2024 18:36 IST

Have you ever wondered how large-scale networks of computers work together easily? Distributed Operating Systems are the magic behind this, enabling multiple independent computers to work together as a unified system. They manage resources and processes across networked machines, improving performance and reliability while providing a single, coherent user interface. Let's understand more!

An operating system is a set of software instructions that dictate the computer’s functionality and make it work. There are many types of operating systems available in the market today. Some are designed for individual use, and some are designed for computer networks. A distributed operating system is a system that is stored on several computers simultaneously. Clients access the operating system from a server, a mainframe, or a personal computer. Distributed operating systems have several advantages, but they also have several disadvantages.

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A distributed operating system is one in which multiple computer systems are connected through a single communication channel. Additionally, these systems have separate processors and memory. In addition, these processors communicate over high-speed buses or telephone lines. These individual systems connected by a single channel are considered a single entity. We can also call them loosely coupled systems. Each component or system of the network is a node. In this fig, we have different computers (at different locations) attached to each other through the network and can communicate.

Examples of distributed operating systems

  • Solaris
  • Micros
  • Mach
  • Ubuntu
  • Linux
  • Locus
  • OSF/1

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Real-life Example of Distributed Operating System


1. Web search

We Have different web pages, multimedia content, and scanned documents that we need to search. The purpose of web search is to index the content of the web. So to help us, we use different search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. These search engines use distributed architecture.

2. Banking system

Suppose there is a bank whose headquarters is in New Delhi. That bank has branch offices in cities like Ludhiana, Noida, Faridabad, and Chandigarh. You can operate your bank by going to any of these branches. How is this possible? It’s because whatever changes you make at one branch office are reflected at all branches. This is because of the distributed system.

3. Massively multiplayer online games

Nowadays, you can play online games where you can play games with a person sitting in another country in a real-time environment. How’s it possible? It is because of distributed architecture.

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Characteristics of Distributed Operating System

1. Resource Sharing

This system's most important feature is users' ability to share resources. Additionally, resources can be shared in a safe and controlled manner. Resources can be of any type. For example, some shared resources are printers, files, data, storage, web pages, etc. 

2. Concurrency

This means multiple tasks are executed simultaneously on different system nodes. Additionally, these tasks can interact with each other. This increases system efficiency.

3. Openness

This means that the services provided by the system are openly mapped through interfaces. Moreover, these interfaces only provide the syntax for services. For example, function type, return type, parameters, etc. These interfaces use the Interface Definition Language (IDL). 

4. Scalability

This means that as nodes are added to the system, the system’s efficiency remains the same. Additionally, the performance of a 100-node system should be comparable to that of a 1000-node system.

5. Fault Tolerance

This means that users can continue working with the system in case of hardware or software failure.

6. Transparency

This is the most important feature of this system. The primary purpose of distributed operating systems is to hide the fact that resources are shared. Additionally, transparency means that users are unaware that their resources are being shared. Additionally, the system should be a separate entity from the user. 

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Types of Distributed Operating Systems

1. Client Server System

In this system, clients request resources from servers. The server, in turn, makes this resource available to clients. A client connects to only one of the servers at a time. A single server can handle multiple clients simultaneously. Clients and servers connect through a computer network within the system. Client-server systems are also called “tightly coupled operating systems.” This system is primarily intended for multiprocessors and homogeneous multi-computers. A client-server system acts as a central server, authorizing all requests issued by client systems.

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2. Peer-to-peer System

Nodes play an important role in this system. All work is evenly distributed among the nodes. Nodes here means the computer, electronic devices, or workstation. Additionally, these nodes can share data or resources depending on your requirements. Again, you need a network to connect.

The peer-to-peer system is known as the “loose pairing system.” This concept is used in computer networking applications because they contain many processors that do not share memory or clocks. Each processor has its local memory, interacting with each other through various communication methods, such as telephone lines or high-speed buses.

Advantages of Distributed Operating System

1. Data Sharing

Distributed systems allow one component to share data with other components in the system easily. This is possible because, in a distributed system, nodes are connected for collaboration.

2. Ability of extension

Scalability means we can change a particular system’s size and scope. The distributed system offers unparalleled scalability as we can easily add more nodes to a particular network.

3. Error management

A distributed system does not depend on a single node. Thus, even in the event of a malfunction of one node, the other nodes continue to function normally. So the system is intact.

4. Reliability

For a system to be reliable, it must handle errors efficiently. Since distributed systems easily handle system problems, they are quite reliable.

5. Effective

Distributed systems are efficient because they involve many computers, saving users time. In addition, they can provide superior performance compared to centralized systems.

6. Less delay

In today’s world, time is a major constraint for salespeople and users. The distributed system provides low latency. Let’s take the example of a user who uses the Internet and loads a web page. The system ensures that the button closest to the user performs the loading task to save time.

Disadvantages of Distributed Operating System

1. Security issues

Security issues often arise in many software and hardware devices. The same is true for distributed systems. Such security risks occur because there are many nodes and connections in an open system environment, which makes it challenging to provide adequate security.

2. High setup cost

Installation and initial configuration costs are high due to the wide variety of hardware and software devices. Other maintenance costs associated with the system add up to the total cost, making it even more expensive. 

3. Lost data

There may be cases where the data sent from one node to another may be lost halfway through its journey from the source node to the destination node. This leads to losing some important messages, which is detrimental to the business.

4. Difficult to manage

The hardware and software of a distributed system are quite complex. The maintenance and operation of hardware components for enterprises is very complex. In addition, the complexity of software forces companies to pay special attention to software components.

5. Overload problem

Overload problems can arise in the system if all nodes in the distributed system try to send data at a certain time.

Thus, a distributed operating system like Linux can save money and time when used properly under certain conditions, such as secure IP addresses and limited accessibility from some client devices. However, you need to consider all the risks involved when planning an OS network so future failures are manageable and you also.


How does a distributed operating system handle process and resource management?

In a distributed operating system, process and resource management are typically handled through distributed algorithms and protocols. The operating system manages the allocation and scheduling of processes across nodes, ensures load balancing, and provides mechanisms for inter-process communication and synchronization. Resource management involves managing distributed resources such as memory, storage, and I/O devices, and coordinating their usage among processes and nodes to optimize system performance.

What is the role of middleware in a distributed operating system?

Middleware acts as a bridge between the distributed operating system and the applications running on it. It provides higher-level services and abstractions that simplify the development of distributed applications. Middleware handles communication, synchronization, and resource management, allowing applications to interact with the underlying distributed operating system without dealing with low-level details of distributed computing.

What are some examples of distributed operating systems?

Google File System (GFS): GFS is a distributed file system developed by Google for storing and managing large amounts of data across multiple machines. Apache Hadoop: Hadoop is an open-source framework that provides distributed storage and processing of big data across clusters of computers. Microsoft Azure Service Fabric: Service Fabric is a distributed systems platform provided by Microsoft for building and managing scalable and reliable applications across clusters of machines. Amoeba: Amoeba is a distributed operating system developed by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, known for its transparent and scalable design. Plan 9 from Bell Labs: Plan 9 is a distributed operating system designed by Bell Labs, emphasizing network transparency and distributed computing.

How does a Distributed Operating System differ from a Traditional Operating System?

A Distributed Operating System manages a network of independent computers, making them appear to the user as a single coherent system, enhancing resource sharing, scalability, and reliability. In contrast, a Traditional Operating System manages resources on a single computer, focusing on tasks like memory management, process scheduling, and file handling for that singular device.

What are the key advantages of using a Distributed Operating System?

The key advantages include improved computational speed through parallel processing, increased data reliability and availability through replication across multiple nodes, and enhanced resource sharing that allows for more efficient use of hardware and software resources across the network.

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