Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Green Hills Embedded Software Summit Review

What Happened

Last week VDC visited the Green Hills Embedded Software Summit 2005 (we are calling it “GHESS”) in sunny Santa Barbara, CA. This was the third GHESS, and each one is better than the last. Green Hills continues to hone this event into a valuable day and a half of company direction, new product announcements, technology demonstrations and customer experiences. Green Hills is often knocked as being a bit too technology driven and lacking in marketing savvy. The evolution of these events shows that the company is getting better at “that vision thing.”

Speaking of vision, Green Hills has been articulating a new outlook for itself. It began with the introduction of INTEGRITY PC at last year’s GHESS, was extended last April with introduction of INTEGRITY Workstation and Server, and continues with some new product announcements in the latest edition. Couple that with a few tight presentations to bring it all together, and Green Hills has laid out a broad, clear, and comprehensive picture of the future of computing.

Core to this future is the Multiple Independent Levels of Security (MILS) architecture. MILS technology is being weaved through Green Hills’ product line including the INTEGRITY OS, its Partitioning, Journaling File System (PJFS) and the third-party middleware it will support. In this environment, a hosted OS, such as Linux or Windows, residing in an INTEGRITY partition might be a danger to itself, but not to the partitioned systems. Windows might still crash or become infected, but it won’t bring down your entire nuclear plant or Tactical Operations Center (TOC) because INTEGRITY isolates the hosted OS. In addition to security and reliability, GHS is also offering a vision of streamlining secure network computing in a number of environments (government, military) that require multiple levels of security from unclassified to top secret. For example, currently it is possible for each soldier in a TOC to have four computers each running on one of four networks: lots of machines, lots of wires. By using MILS and INTEGRITY Workstation, you could have one thin client machine running four partitioned systems. This obviously reduces the number of machines, and allows data to move from one partitioned system to another (unclassified to secret) on a single machine. Current practices included a floppy disk, sneaker net and small fire (to burn the disc). INTEGRITY acts as a security monitor and prevents data moving from a more secure to less secure network, all the time logging transactions for later review.

Green Hills announced a file system that can provide secure partitions for hard drives or flash memory – again potentially reducing the amount of hardware required to support multiple secure systems. Toss in secure middleware from a company like Objective Interface and you can simplify the network architecture. To be sure, other RTOS vendors are pursuing MILS including Wind River Systems and Lynuxworks, but Green Hills has been the most vocal and articulate about its “vision,” direction and successes in implementation.

So where is Green Hills going with all this? Well, the tag line of the GHESS 2005 was “INTEGRITY: The first universal operating system.” VDC would like to take this a step further in terms of detail and clarity and offer that Green Hills has a place in any system that requires reliability and security. This by the way includes essentially all systems from handsets to servers from telematics to workstations. In this future of computing, Green Hills’ INTEGRITY is wrapped around Windows, Linux, and perhaps other OSs to provide a partitioned and protected operating space.

Forget embedded. After all, what is “embedded?” At VDC, we have been talking for some time about a market definition driven not by arbitrary applications (as Marcus Levy asked us: “is this TREO an embedded device?”) to one derived from requirements (like reliability, security, perhaps safety.) Green Hills, perhaps without saying it, is actually heading down this road. The form factor of the device is not the key to whether or not that device is a good potential market for them, but rather what that device has to do in the real world. Look to performance requirements, not physical characteristics.

The old definition of “embedded” looks like this: “headless, resource constrained (processing power, memory), real-time requirements, contained inside another computer…” This definition is meaningless today with the variety of devices and sheer power of the components used to build them.

Vendors, including Green Hills must begin to position themselves as providers of reliable and secure software for whatever platform. To become suppliers of “Trusted” software, not embedded software. All of the reliability and security capabilities of software in the traditional “embedded” market are just as valuable or perhaps even more valuable to “enterprise” systems. How many viruses, worms or Trojans have infected or attempted to infect your work or personal computers this week?

Of course, managing this transition from a sub-$100 million embedded company to a major IT player spanning all sorts of markets is the tough part. Certainly Green Hills does not want to give up the core markets that have made it the fastest-growing embedded systems player. At the same time, the opportunities in the enterprise market far outweigh those available in the traditional embedded market. Green Hills is likely considering how to:

· Build a trusted supply chain – including hardware vendors and integrators who can ensure secure delivery and ongoing support of these systems.

· Build a tight “out of the box” experience – the IT teams at the NSA, Farmers Insurance or JP Morgan do not want to call GHS or its SIs every time a problem occurs.

· Deliver MILS as a solution set rather than a basket of products-including tight integration with third-party products including middleware. This is not the kind of technology that users are going to want to cobble together themselves-even if they could.

· Evangelize MILS to non-traditional secure markets like Insurance and Financial Services-clearly new territory for Green Hills.

· Remember where they came from with so much opportunity on the horizon – including a focus on core markets and products.

As for the TREO – yes, it is an embedded device and it contains at least two embedded systems. And don’t look for VDC to rename our market research service just yet – we will continue to use “embedded” for the time being. Even if we don’t think it really gets at the essence of the markets that we are studying.