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Phoenix unveils next-gen BIOS firmware roadmap

Nov 25, 2003 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 5 views

Phoenix Technologies Ltd. unveiled a vision and roadmap for a next generation of system BIOS firmware that the company calls “core system software” today, at its Strategy 2004 conference. As defined by Phoenix, CSS is a new category of core system firmware that transcends the boundaries of traditional BIOSes and delivers “extensible firmware that provides the critical foundation of trust, manageability,… and connectivity required for networked computing,” in a broad range of devices including desktop and laptop PCs, servers, and handhelds gadgets.

“Through our Core System Software, Phoenix is making a dramatic change that will become the basis of networked computing for the next two decades,” noted Phoenix CEO Albert Sisto. “For the past two decades, BIOS has been all about PC compatibility based on the original IBM standard. As such, it provided only limited security, no network awareness, and no network connectivity at the core of the PC architecture. Today, nearly all digital devices are connected to a network, whether to conduct global commerce or just to access email. This requires an advanced foundation for implementing an extensible and flexible architecture designed specifically for the age of networked computing.”

Phoenix's CSS products will be branded under the acronym d-NA, which stands for Device-Networked Architecture, and will comprise a framework and set of interoperable software building blocks.

What's d-NA?

d-NA will “significantly expand the capabilities previously provided by legacy system BIOS,” taking a structured, modular, building-block approach to meeting four key requirements of device users and developers, according to Phoenix:

  • Trust — Devices serving as network endpoints can be integrated into to an easy to implement “trustworthy computing” model that leverages secure, digitally signed core system software. This is the critical first link in a “chain of trust.” In addition, Phoenix d-NA will incorporate a new class of Windows-advantaged components that leverage the Microsoft CryptoAPI (CAPI) to provide unprecedented trust and intrinsic security for systems running Windows and .NET applications.
  • Manageability — Intelligent devices and servers based on Phoenix d-NA are able to provide self-management, self-healing, and self-authentication as standard capabilities. By leveraging Phoenix d-NA, software developers in a wide range of categories, from identity management to asset management, will be able to incorporate intrinsic “device authentication” into the fabric of their offerings.
  • Connectivity — Core System Software built with Phoenix d-NA has the inherent capacity to provide an always-on live connection to both operating system and network services and standards, including TCP/IP and XML. While this capability is powerful in user-driven computing, it is even more powerful when applied in the context of machine-to-machine computing as well as grids, clusters, and blade-centric computing.
  • Usability — OEMs can now define customer segment-centric device personalities for market and individual requirements. They also can leverage the popular Phoenix Core Managed Environment (cME) to deliver critical protected applications, including system recovery, virus protection, PDA synchronization, and more.

d-NA product roadmap

Specific technologies that Phoenix is integrating into its d-NA CSS firmware include: support for the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) specification, remote diagnostics and error-checking, intelligent configuration checking and integrated system policy management, automated provisioning of servers and server virtualization, “radically enhanced” device power management, embedded TCP/IP, remote management functions including dynamic provisioning, load balancing, and software resource control, and an XML and SOAP standards-based interface to CSS functions.

Over the coming months, Phoenix plans to introduce CSS software as follows, according to Tim Eades, senior vice president of Phoenix's corporate marketing and product division. These include:

  • cME TrustedCore NB — for notebook and tablet PCs — released Nov. 24, 2003
  • cME TrustedCore SVR — for servers, blades, and grids — early Q1 2004
  • cME TrustedCore DT — for business and consumer desktop systems — Q1 2004
  • cME TrustedCore EMB — for embedded systems developers) — Q1 2004
  • cME TrustedCore IA — for consumer information appliances

Is Microsoft taking over the BIOS?

Phoenix and Microsoft recently announced that they were collaborating on CSS firmware focused on WinPE (Microsoft's Windows Preinstallation Environment tool), security, and future Microsoft client and server OS releases, intended to “improve a device's reliability, usability, manageability, and security.”

At that time, Microsoft General Manager Tom Phillips noted that the effort “is a pivotal change for the industry, and it will rapidly advance serviceability, deployment, and management for servers, mobile devices, and desktops. Effectively, Phoenix is creating an entirely new category of system software.”

A recent Slashdot discussion worried that Microsoft is “taking over the BIOS.” But are Phoenix and Microsoft likely to be the sole beneficiaries of CSS firmware?

“It's not just us — the industry is pointed in this direction,” noted Eades.

According to Eades, Phoenix intends to publish a technical overview of what CSS is and what services it provides, which will enable other operating systems besides Microsoft's to make use of CSS functionality, including Linux.

Phoenix appears to intend for CSS to become an industry-wide, generic term, like “BIOS” — not a brand owned by Phoenix. Other software vendors, including Phoenix's competitors, will be able to develop their implementations of CSS functionality.

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