Embedded RTOS vendors still find success in tough times

Designers of embedded real-time operating systems are finding avenues of opportunity in government, military, industrial, and other niche markets as the telecommunications market continues to hit rock bottom. Meanwhile designers are also excited about the technological opportunities that go with reconfigurable computing.

Sep 1st, 2002
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By John McHale

The economic downturn that has devastated many hardware and software companies that depend on the telecommunications industry has not had the same affect on embedded real-time operating system (RTOS) vendors. Officials at these companies continue to see strong prospects for growth in embedded applications such as military and industrial automation.

These same companies are also well diversified among different industries and if one of these industries fails, such as telecommunications, they can still grow and make a profit.

Green Hills Software in Santa Barbara, Calif., has been on a winning streak the past year or so, says John Carbone, vice president of sales and marketing at Green Hills. Ever since the company won a place on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, "we continue to win contracts," he continues. "The military is a really strong growth market for us."

Green Hills officials also recently announced that experts at NLX Corp. in Sterling, Va., are using the Green Hills Integrity RTOS and AdaMULTI integrated development environment to upgrade the U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber weapons system trainer (WST). This system provides B-1 pilots and weapons systems officers with realistic simulation of the B-1's flight and weapons systems.

The Integrity RTOS, hosting PowerPC 740 application software developed with Green Hills Software's AdaMULTI IDE, is part of the B-1's flight control system, which performs all the navigation, guidance, display, and weapons functions. The WST duplicates the B-1 cockpit and flight computers, Green Hills officials say.

"Integrity not only provides an ideal runtime environment for hosting mission-critical flight control and weapons tasks aboard the B-1, but it also gives us the flexibility we need to build a rich, customizable B-1 simulation and training environment," says John Broman, a project engineer with NLX.

Military systems designers favor those with expertise in applications such as security and safety certification, as well as in strong development tools.

"We've grown 16 percent since last year," says Steve Woodard, senior vice president of global operations at software tools vendor Venturcom in Cambridge, Mass. - especially in industrial automation and simulation, he adds. Venturcom provides real-time extensions to embedded Windows NT, 2000, and XP. Two of the company's major customers in flight simulation are CAE in Montreal and FlightSafety International in Flushing, N.Y. "We are like a virtual Home Depot, because we offer a lot of tools."

Most people cringe when they hear the possibility of Windows running in real-time, Woodard says. Still, those systems integrators who do not require the super-hard determinism that goes with traditional RTOSs are looking for just enough determinism to get the job done, and want it done on Windows, which Venturcom experts offer, he says.

Venturcom officials also find government interest for their latest product, BXP, because of the tool's security features, Woodard says. Venturcom's BXP, the remote centralized management of client systems, enables equipment and systems to operate without local persistent storage devices, eliminating the need for hard drives, flash memory, bootable CDs or any other form of data storage. BXP enabled systems address their storage requirements through network connectivity and a remote "virtual" disk drive, Venturcom officials say.

Rotating media, or mechanically attached devices such as hard drives or socketed flash memory represent the single most vulnerable point of failure in embedded systems. The elimination of these devices will substantially improve overall system reliability in two ways; through the elimination of the component and the reduction in burden that a component may apply to the system, Venturcom officials say. This may be in the form of power supply loading, or the extra physical weight or mechanical demand placed on the system by an additional component.

BXP running on a Windows XP or XPe machine provides a Virtual storage area network (SAN) or network attached storage (NAS) drive to network PCs, Venturcom officials claim. A network attached diskless PC can boot from these virtual SAN or NAS drives and transparently use them as local storage. The client requires no storage - no hard disk, or no RAM disk; BXP provides a complete software-only solution on server and clients, company officials say.

Safeguarding intellectual property, eliminating potential access mechanisms, easing and automating backup management are automatic benefits of a BXP-based product, company officials say. The centralization of disk images greatly simplifies backup management issues while enabling security procedures not possible in remote client systems. For example, servers can operate from within a vault if needed, Venturcom officials claim.

It is the diversity of tools and products that make an RTOS company survive and thrive in the embedded application says Steve Blackman, director of marketing and business development for the aerospace and defense business unit at Wind River Systems in Alameda, Calif. Wind River is much more than a RTOS vendor, he says, because it offers tools for system development, Internet Protocol technology, middleware, Java technologies, and hardware tools, he explains.

Linux

Royalty-free software is also a hot topic in the embedded industry, which is why Linux is so popular, says Green Hills's Carbone. Customers are already spending heavily on system design itself without the software royalty fee, he says. Green Hills Integrity and ThreadX operating systems are royalty free, Carbone adds.

Two companies that a have a strong foothold in the embedded Linux application are MontaVista Software and LynuxWorks, both in San Jose, Calif.

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Experts at MontaVista Software recently partnered with Integrated Device Technology (IDT) in Santa Clara, Calif., to provide Linux support for IDT's integrated communications processors targeted for existing and emerging embedded applications including Ethernet switching, gateways, wireless access points, and virtual private networks (VPNs).

The MontaVista Linux Professional Edition, MontaVista Software's flagship product, will initially support IDT's RC32334 integrated communications processor and 79S334 evaluation board. Company officials say they plan to support additional IDT processors. Customers can use IDT's integrated communications processors and the development environment from MontaVista Software to design, develop, and deploy their applications, MontaVista officials say.

"MontaVista Software targets the leading MIPS-based embedded CPUs and boards to meet our customer demands with the scalable and full-featured MontaVista Linux," says John Nielson, director of business development for MIPS architecture at MontaVista Software. "The IDT/MontaVista partnership provides embedded developers with the flexibility and performance of IDT's integrated communications processors while leveraging all the advantages of a Linux-based development platform," Nielson says.

"Customers in the highly cost-sensitive applications that IDT's integrated processors serve are clearly viewing the adoption of Linux as a way to further reduce system costs," says Sandra Chang, strategic partner program manager for IDT's integrated communications processors.

MontaVista Linux Professional Edition 2.1, based on the Linux kernel version 2.4.17, targets 24 processors supporting 68 commercial off-the-shelf and reference boards. MontaVista Linux provides native Linux real-time performance with the MontaVista pre-emptible kernel and real-time scheduler, MontaVista officials say.

LynuxWorks has teamed with experts at UXComm in Pleasanton, Calif., under the LynuxWorks' SynergyWorks Alliance program. The first product made available under the program is UXComm's XTend Management for the data communications and telecommunications systems and network processor applications. Consisting of XTend Tools and XTend Engine, XTend Management offers an embeddable solution for the unified management and control of embedded components, systems and services with BlueCat Linux and LynxOS operating systems.

UXComm's XTend Management helps manage telecommunications and data communications via Web, CLI, XML, and SNMP management interfaces, LynuxWorks officials say. Management applications and interfaces are developed using XTend Tools, which consist of a suite of integrated, rapid development and test environment tools. XTend management applications execute on XTend Engine - an embeddable, run-time environment. XTend Engine is an integrated, multi-threaded, Java-based run-time environment that provides secure HTTP and Telnet/CLI servers, an SNMP v3 agent, an XML API, event management, check pointing, and management integration through a plug-in architecture.

FPGAs

RTOS vendors say they also are excited about partnering with designers of field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to get a stake in the growing reconfigurable computing field, Blackman says.

Engineers at Wind River are currently working with experts at Celoxica Limited in Abingdon, England, and Xilinx in San Jose, Calif., to create a suite of tools that enables system designers to quickly reconfigure their FPGAs from any location worldwide.

The partnership enables Celoxica's products for rapidly designing applications in reconfigurable hardware to be interoperable with Xilinx field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and Wind River's VxWorks real-time operating system (RTOS).

The joint venture is built on an initiative between the three companies to demonstrate Internet Reconfigurable Logic (IRL). IRL makes it easy for network upgradeability of hardware. Users will be able to download upgrades to their FPGAs right off their network Intranet, he says.

The agreement will help Wind River's embedded customers, because they will be able to reconfigure their hardware quickly and with the robust environment of a real-time operating system.

Officials at OSE in San Jose, Calif., recently announced an agreement with Altera Corp., also in San Jose, Calif., to make the OSE real-time operating system available for Altera's Excalibur embedded processor solutions.

This package is for high-availability communications and safety critical systems that use OSE's RTOS and Altera's Excalibur embedded processor solutions, OSE officials say. Altera customers now have access to an additional RTOS designed for use with Excalibur devices that enables system-on-a-programmable-chip designs.

Altera's Excalibur devices, with an ARM9-based processor subsystem integrated with a FPGA fabric, enable customers to take advantage of a close integration between OSE's high-availability RTOS and high-performance custom logic for system-on-a-programmable-chip designs. With Altera and OSE Systems, customers can design platforms for next-generation network infrastructures and mission-critical applications with 99.999 percent availability, also known as high-availability, officials say.

"OSE's board support package for the Excalibur EPXA10 development board from Altera makes it possible to integrate a high-performance data-path fabric while running a robust operating system in critical communications applications within the control plane," says Anders Flodin, director of strategic alliances at OSE. "Altera customers can now exploit the advantages of high reliability and high-availability associated with the OSE operating system."


European Space Agency PROBA satellite uses VxWorks

Experts at the European Space Agency (ESA) are using the VxWorks real-time operating system from Wind River Systems in Alameda, Calif., for the PROBA (Project for On-Board Autonomy) micro-satellite system, the first ESA spacecraft with autonomous capabilities. The PROBA satellite operates virtually unaided by ESA staff on the ground with the help of VxWorks.

"We chose Wind River's VxWorks operating system for PROBA because of its robustness and proven reliability on space missions," says Dominique Baudoux, space business unit program manager for Spacebel, the subcontractor responsible for providing PROBA's flight software. "Be cause PROBA operates virtually un aided, we needed a trustworthy operating system capable of reliable operation while in space. PROBA is thus far a great success and we are very pleased with the software."

Experts from the Indian Space Research Organization launched PROBA into orbit last fall. Despite its small size and weight, PROBA has the ability to observe the same spot on Earth from several different angles, and has already provided scientists with detailed environmental images through its compact high-resolution imaging spectrometer (CHRIS) the main payload onboard the spacecraft. Data from the lightweight instrument flow from PROBA to ESA's ground station in Redu, Belgium, to help scientists develop tools for environmental monitoring, forest cataloging, crop forecasting, and marine science, company officials say.

Wind River's VxWorks RTOS controls all on-board functions of the PROBA satellite. The capabilities of the VxWorks RTOS also help enable PROBA to upload new versions of software as it orbits the earth. This functionality is based on Wind River's 'incremental linking' technology. VxWorks also reduced the operating system memory footprint to a minimum while controlling all on-board instruments, tests, and communications, Wind River officials say. The VxWorks kernel accounts for less than ten percent of the total lines of code on-board PROBA.

During its projected two-year lifetime, PROBA will perform scientific and housekeeping that can be planned, controlled, and monitored by the ground team and the satellite's on-board computer, Wind River officials say. Functions that will be tested for autonomy possibilities include scheduling and planning of scientific experiments; data collection; communications between PROBA, scientific users, and the ground team; management of routine satellite functions; and failure detection. Most satellites currently require interaction between the ground and the spacecraft to carry out similar activities, company officials say.


Royal Danish Navy selects LynxOS 4.0

Engineers at Terma A/S in Denmark needed a real-time operating system that could run Linux applications unmodified for the Royal Danish Navy Standard Flex 300 (SF300) command, control, and communications information (C3I) system, so they chose LynxOS from LynuxWorks in San Jose, Calif.

"We were very pleased when LynuxWorks stepped up and were able to demonstrate LynxOS compatibility to Linux," says Eric Kressel, Director of Business Development at Terma. "This kind of openness is unique among the real-time operating systems we have evaluated."

The program's RTOS requirements were binary compatibility with Linux-based application software and support for embedded Java & Java/C/C++ applications, as well as field-proven high stability, a well-developed tool chain and certification to the DO178B military software standard, LynuxWorks officials say.

Unlike competing operating systems, LynxOS was able to meet Terma's need binary compatibility with the Linux-based M-K battlefield simulation software system, in which the project had made a significant investment, LynuxWorks officials say.

LynuxWorks experts successfully ran unmodified M-K Technologies binaries on LynxOS using the beta version of the new LynxOS 4.0 (now released), at LynuxWorks SA in France, company officials say.

Terma experts are updating the SF300 system together with two other Danish defense contractors, Systematic and Infocom. The SF300 system was developed in the 1980s to create an integrated C3I environment for the Royal Danish Navy. It links weapons to operator consoles and sensors including trackers and navigational aids.

The M-K Technologies software provides the battlefield simulation environment and application program interfaces for the SF300 system; the technological update program is extending the SF300 system capabilities while preserving the original operational functionality of the system, LynuxWorks officials say.

For more information on LynuxWorks contact the company on the World Wide Web at http://www.lynuxworks.com.


Accelerated Technology's Nucleus RTOS used in aircraft communication system

Experts at PENTAR Avionics in Seattle are using the Nucleus real-time operating system from Accelerated Technology, the embedded systems division of Mentor Graphics Corp., in Mobile, Ala., to develop the CMS-1000 communications management system for airborne transportation.

The CMS-1000 communications system fits in a small cockpit panel to provide information to air traffic controllers such as aircraft position, engine data, air data, fuel information, and many other aircraft parameters.

Development of the CMS family included Nucleus PLUS, a scalable real-time kernel; Nucleus NET, a TCP/IP protocol stack; Nucleus FILE, a file management system; Nucleus PQUICC Ethernet driver, and the Nucleus Extended Protocol Package, company officials say.

Dean Levi, principal engineer for the CMS project at PENTAR Avionics, initially installed Nucleus to build a Visual Studio workspace, Accelerated Technology officials say. He then compiled the Nucleus software packages into libraries, and linked them with a test program, and downloaded this program to an EST development board. This provided a basic platform from which he could learn the details of Nucleus and develop the CMS application software packages, company officials say.

"I evaluated a number of companies and eliminated most of them due to reasons such as a lack of RTOS features, company inexperience, no prior certification of their RTOS in an avionics product, or the inability to get technical support on the phone," Levi says. "This narrowed it down to a couple of companies from which it was determined that Nucleus and the supporting packages met all of our requirements and desires."

Nucleus PLUS is the main core for each of the three CMS processor boards. Levi added a capability for Nucleus to detect which board it was running on so that it could properly configure the I/O on power-up, Accelerated Technology officials say. Additional drivers were written for special hardware interfaces that had been designed into the boards. Levi developed a Nucleus-based UART driver to make it an object-oriented driver that could use SMC, SCC, or an external UART device, company officials say.

Once the CMS hardware was received in house, Levi ran the test program that he originally created using the Nucleus PLUS core to test the hardware of each board, Accelerated Technology officials say. Minor changes were made to the Nucleus components to get it running on these platforms. In the end, he had a stable Nucleus-based core that ran on all three of their hardware platforms.

Companies such as UPS Aviation Technology and Honeywell have implemented the Accelerated Technology Nucleus software for critical applications in the aviation industry for several years, company officials say.

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