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Wind River acquires patented real-time Linux technology

Feb 20, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 19 views

Wind River, one of the world's top embedded software providers, has acquired a real-time Linux distribution and patented hard-real-time technology from FSMLabs Inc. The acquisition will help Wind River penetrate new and emerging markets requiring extremely tight timing constraints, including the vast, emerging market for low-cost, single-core feature phones, according to the company.

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Wind River itself is no stranger to real-time operating system (RTOS) technology, being the world's largest RTOS vendor, and behind Microsoft, the largest embedded OS provider. The company's VxWorks RTOS has long enjoyed a position as the RTOS market-share leader, but has steadily lost market share to both Microsoft and embedded Linux over the past half-dozen years. In response to the growing popularity of embedded Linux, the company several years ago began transitioning to Linux as its second major embedded OS platform, alongside VxWorks, but positioned it as a solution for non-, or at most “soft-real-time,” timing constraints, with VxWorks recommended for customers requiring hard-real-time.

Through the acquisition of “RTLinux” assets from FSMLabs, Wind River will now be able to offer its embedded Linux software platforms to customers that do not wish to use VxWorks, but require hard-real-time characteristics. FSMLabs, for example recently touted maximum interrupt latencies for its RTLinux distribution of five microseconds, with scheduling jitter of no more than eight microseconds, on suitable hardware. The standard Linux 2.6 kernel, on the other hand, offers “response times” in the tens of milliseconds, but can be made 30 times faster by means of non-patented, open-source patches, according to competitor MontaVista. Real-time software performance claims have long been a subject of intense debate throughout the industry, however.

The deal

Wind River declined to specify the terms of the deal, which is said to include patents, copyrights, trademarks, and associated product rights. It takes effect immediately, and has no contingencies, according to the company.

Wind River will sell and support RTLinux exclusively in embedded markets, while FSMLabs will continue to commercialize RTLinux software in the enterprise applications field under a grant of rights from Wind River. Glenn Seiler, director of Linux Platforms at Wind River, explains, “We defined 'embedded' to include anything ATCA, anything mobile phone, anything automotive or aerospace/defense, as well as any application that does not run on a standard laptop or server.”

Seiler expects the acquisition to augment Wind River's earnings immediately, by helping the company better serve leading tier-one clients in automotive, telecom, aerospace, and defense markets. He explained, “Over the last couple of years, new markets have opened up that are starting to embrace Linux. Aerospace and defense; automotive, including driver-assist and crash avoidance technologies; very high-bandwidth video streaming, such as XRay renderers and other medical devices; and, of course, the single-chip, single-core feature phone market. All of these have very, very hard real-time requirements.” As an example, FSMLabs partner Infineon last week demonstrated an RTLinux-powered MP-Elite phone prototype, touted as the first single-chip, single-core feature phone ever to run an “open” OS such as Linux, Windows, or Symbian. Wind River, meanwhile, recently joined TI's phone chip ecosystem.

Seiler noted that the deal will free up FSMLabs to pursue new opportunities in emerging markets, such as electronic trading systems. According to Seiler, “[FSMLabs founder Victor Yodaiken] saw that Wind River could really expand the reach of the [RTLinux] technology, just by virtue of our worldwide presence. And, he saw that it would allow FSMLabs to pursue other things with the confidence that the right company was driving the technology forward.”

Yodaiken stated, “Over the last 10 years, we have transformed whatâ€(tm)s possible in the embedded space by delivering unique, industry-beating technologies that are compatible with the richness of the open source and open standards ecosystem. Now, we will capitalize on our strengths to deliver solutions for the enterprise, security, simulation, and financial markets.”

Yodaiken added that the first FSMLabs Enterprise product will be RTTimeSync, “a product that provides highly reliable sub-microsecond time synchronization capabilities for datacenters, even in the event of intermittent network connectivity.”

Touted RTLinux features and benefits

RTLinux is based on real-time technology described in U.S. Patent 5,995,745. The distribution comprises a very small, simple “executive” called RTCore, along with a more or less stock Red Hat Linux distribution, modified so that the Linux kernel's scheduler addresses RTCore, rather than the system's hardware interrupt request controller (IRC). RTCore has a C-language API and can run real-time POSIX applications. By having sole control over the IRC, it can ensure that hardware interrupts that require servicing by real-time applications enjoy top priority.

Seiler said that RTLinux offers greater determinism than other approaches to real-time Linux, such as the PREEMPT patches. “The preempt patches are still really only soft real-time patches. They have different points in the kernel where you can preempt it, but depending on the granularity, you don't have 100 percent determinism. With RTLinux, you get 100 percent determinism.”

Additionally, except for changes to the Linux scheduler, no modifications need be done to the operating system, its applications, or its drivers. Seiler noted, “The [community supported] real-time patches are board and device driver dependent. If your drivers are not SMP-safe, you're going to have some issues. And, the patches are not as portable across multiple architectures and BSPs.”

Another touted benefit is the independence RTCore offers from the GPL-licensed Linux operating system. According to Seiler, “Technically, RTCore is a separate executive that could run any OS. It's been used with UNIX, BSD, and Linux. So, it's clearly delineated from Linux, and clearly not a derived work of Linux, because it doesn't require Linux at all. That's really one of the beauties of this architecture. It's simple, small, efficient, and completely independent of Linux, technically.”

RTLinux is one of many commercial and community real-time Linux distributions. Additionally, combining Linux with an RTOS via platform virtualization technology in order to augment Linux with hard-real-time capabilities is increasingly common; examples include products from Applix, ERTOS, the OpenVZ Project, Trango, and VirtualLogix (formerly Jaluna).

Interestingly, in its first press release since selling its RTLinux and RTCore technology and trademarks to Wind River, FSMLabs referred to the technology behind RTCore as “dual kernel virtualization technology.”

Coming soon: “Wind River RTCore”

In the short term, Wind River plans to sell and support RTLinux as it exists today, Seiler said, and has hired key staff from FSMLabs in order to smooth the transition. Going forward, it will integrate RTLinux's real-time technology with its own Wind River Linux-branded distributions, in place of the Red Hat based distribution included with RTLinux today.

Seiler explained, “Our strategy is to take RTCore and integrate it with Wind River Linux and with our Workbench tools. The product will then be called 'Wind River RTCore,' and will be an option customers can purchase with Wind River Linux, if they have a real-time requirement.”

Wind River also plans to port the the technology to new architectures, such as MIPS, Seiler said. RTLinux currently supports IA32, 64, EM64T, PowerPC, and ARM.

Additionally, Wind River will continue to sell and support soft real-time Linux options based on community-developed real-time technology, such as Ingo Molnar's PREEMPT patch. And of course, it plans to keep selling its VxWorks RTOS (real-time operating system).

Further Background on RTLinux

FSMLabs's recent RTLinux design wins include:

Additionally, RTLinux was the first distro registered with the Carrier Grade Linux 3.2 specification, and recently added support for ARINC 653 scheduling.

Recent whitepapers about real-time programming under RTLinux include:

FSMLabs CEO Victor Yodaiken

Recent guest columns by FSMLabs founder Victor Yodaiken include:

Also, be sure to read our interesting “CEO Interview” with Yodaiken, published in December of 2003:

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