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Wind River readies virtualization stack

Jun 15, 2008 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Wind River will enter the virtualization software market, focusing on networking, consumer electronics, and industrial automation, it said. The company will in August begin beta-testing a hypervisor and tools aimed at letting customers flexibly deploy Linux, VxWorks, and other RTOSes symmetrically or asymmetrically on one or multiple physical processor cores.

Initially, Intel and PowerPC will be supported in a “technology preview” release scheduled for August. Next, MIPS and ARM support will follow, and OSEck and Windows XP support are also likely to arrive soon, according to Cory Bialowas, director of product management for multicore and virtualization. Adding CAN bus networking support for automotive customers appears to be another priority.

Bialowas admitted that “product packaging” and licensing models have not yet been finalized. He said, “We need to think about how we license our Linux and VxWorks products alongside this. But, the technology is there, and we're demonstrating it.”

Strategic design goals

CTO Tomas Evensen explained that the move toward the embedded virtualization market was motivated by a wish to help customers do the following:

  • Take advantage of the multi-core trend
  • Integrate more features into their devices while leveraging existing code
  • Isolate different functional system components
  • Consolidate hardware

Given that ambitious scope, and the broad range of target markets, the technology will be offered not as a standalone product, but rather as a toolkit. The company hopes customers will be able to use the tools — together with its tools for OS stack customization, and multi-core development — to achieve the particular balance of performance, integration, and isolation that best suits their requirements.

Evensen, who also manages the company's tools division, said that “quite a few” customers are already using the technology. “In networking, people want to use their legacy software and do multicore, with dedicated cores to do packet forwarding, for example. In industrial automation, it's more of a consolidation play. You have a robot or controller with an HMI [human machine interface] running Linux, and a real-time portion controlling something, and you are saving cost by putting it all on one processor. In consumer electronics, VxWorks is dominant in multi-function printers, for example, and people don't want to throw away that code. But, they need to add emailing, and that's easier with Linux.”

Additionally, Evensen suggested that at least some product development has been customer-funded. He said, “Some want VxWorks 5.5 with Linux, some VxWorks 6. Others want Linux with homegrown. We have customers working with our Professional Services team to add the things they need.”

What is a hypervisor?

Given the current proliferation of virtualization technologies, including several high-profile “hypervisors,” we asked Evensen to help us understand how Wind River defines a hypervisor, and what its hypervisor is and does. He replied, “Starting from the beginning, you need to boot the physical board, which can have one or multiple cores, and partition it, giving different physical hardware to different 'logical' boards. You have to have tools and runtime software to get that up and running.

“Depending on hardware support, you can during your runtime have different levels of isolation. If you are running more than one OS on a single core, then you need a scheduler.

“Then there's I/O and memory virtualization. If you have Intel VT, it's not that costly. If you don't have hardware support, you can either emulate everything, or you can do para-virtualization. For Linux on PowerPC processors that do not have virtualization hardware, we are para-virtualizating the OS fairly close to the hardware. [That means] we are changing the operating system code, teaching the guest OS that, 'I'm not running on real hardware.' To make things more efficient, you make hypercalls instead of standard calls.”

The hypervisor at the core of Wind River's virtualization play builds upon the virtualization option long available as a “generic” feature in versions of VxWorks aimed at aerospace and defense, Evensen said. That hypervisor helps customers build devices offering “MILS” (multiple independent levels of security), or, as Evensen describes it, “multiple time- and space-partioned instances of VxWorks” running on a single physical processor core. He adds, “The philosophy behind the hypervisor is minimalism, because customers want to run them in certified partitions. It's between five- and ten-thousand lines of code.”

To that minimal hypervisor, customers will apparently be able to stir in a mix of additional layers. Evensen said, “We went through our vertical market products to see what customers needed, and came up with a toolkit. We are trying to create a toolkit where you can select a hypervisor, multicore support, virtualized I/O, memory virtualization, whatever you need.”

One thing the hypervisor will not have is a minimalist POSIX execution environment. Customers interested in that may be turned toward Wind River's RTCore products, based on technology acquired from FSMLabs.

Competitors in an increasingly crowded market for embedded virtualization include VirtualLogix, Trango, and OKLabs. VirtualLogix touts the high performance of its “real-time” VLX virtualization stack, which recently added Intel VT and PowerPC. The product evolved from Chorus OS, originally developed by Sun Microsystems for telecom applications, and has achieved most of success to date on telecom gear, as well as on DSPs in low-cost set-top boxes. OKLabs, the only embedded virtualization vendor to achieve significant success to date in the high-volume mobile phone market, touts the added stability of the micro-kernel approach used in its OKL4 stack, which runs little more than the scheduler in privileged kernel mode. Trango, meanwhile, eschews the minimalist POSIX execution environments built into both VLX and OKL4, like Wind River offering a “pure hypervisor” that has found success in ultra-high security sectors such as PIN entry pads.

In a statement, Evensen said, “Wind River is the only company that can provide such a comprehensive multicore approach.”


Wind River plans to release its hypervisor and multicore/virtualization tools in August, in a “technology preview” release. Pricing and licensing terms have not yet been worked out.

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