INDUSTRY ANALYSIS: Hypervisors and software virtualization pique interest at Embedded Systems Conference

Significant trends and technologies involving embedded hypervisors and software virtualization for military and aerospace applications stood out at the annual Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in San Jose, Calif., last month.

May 1st, 2008

By Courtney E. Howard

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Significant trends and technologies involving embedded hypervisors and software virtualization for military and aerospace applications stood out at the annual Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in San Jose, Calif., last month.

Embedded hypervisors and software virtualization were presented alongside other innovations on display at ESC—among them low-power multicore processors, sealed and ruggedized compute platforms, and high-performance printed circuit boards the size of business cards.

Hypervisor—a virtualization platform that enables several operating systems to run on a host computer at the same time—is one of the hottest trends in military and aerospace embedded computing.

Several high-level players in the mil-aero market, such as LynuxWorks in San Jose, Calif., and Green Hills Software in Santa Barbara, Calif., are concentrating on the up-and-coming hypervisor trend—and with good reason: it is a perfect fit for mil-aero applications. It blends seamlessly with real-time operating systems (RTOSs) and separation kernels, as well as enables delivery of and access to classified and unclassified information on the same host computer.

Green Hills Software—as well as technology partner Intel, whose Atom processor was used in the computing platform—gained attention with a demonstration of software virtualization at work. One host computer ran several operating systems like Linux and Windows, and delivered unclassified and classified information to separate users. The unclassified user’s mouse cursor was locked in the unclassified OS window and could not click outside of that space, preventing access to the classified window.

Also of interest were various computer-on-module (COM) units, which are complete computers on individual circuit boards. Typically COMs lack the I/O options of single-board computers and require a carrier card. Technology firms are debuting COM products, among them the ETXexpress and microETXexpress modules from Kontron America in Poway, Calif.

An Embedded Technology eXtended (ETX) COM integrates core CPU and memory functionality, USB, audio, graphics, and Ethernet functionality in a small, integrated package that measures about 3.7 by 4.4 inches. The ETX COM attaches to a circuit card via high-density, low-profile connectors on the bottom side of the module.

Multicore technology also made news at the event, as did sealed electronics chassis immersed in fish tanks on the show floor. Heads turned with demonstrations of rugged laptops, as water continually poured out onto the keyboard of an open mobile workstation and executives threw servers onto the show floor and stomped on them.

At the same time, the importance of verifying software code was driven home in several show presentations. Static-analysis tools are proving invaluable in software development, especially given that modernization programs are bringing about a combination of legacy code, such as Ada, with Java, C, and C++ languages.

For more on these topics, visit www.milaero.com and The Mil & Aero Blog (www.pennwellblogs.com/mae).

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