Friday, February 06, 2009

Virtualization for Embedded Systems - Market Update

For enterprise IT applications, virtualization has emerged as a key strategy to control costs by consolidating servers, therefore reducing the related hardware, floor space, power consumption, and cooling. Over the last several years, the number of virtualization solutions specifically targeted at embedded applications has increased dramatically.

What?

VDC considers “virtualization for embedded systems” to be a condition whereby executable software technologies running on a target embedded system/device that enable other guest operating systems or software to execute while either fully or partially separated from direct exchanges with the underlying processor(s) or hardware.

The executable software technology can include:


  • Hypervisor or virtual machine monitor (VMM) – Software running directly on the hardware that primarily functions as a host for one or more guest operating systems.
  • Microkernel or real-time operating system – Software that can serve as a host for one or more guest operating systems but also serves as an operating system itself typically providing key features required by or desirable to the function of the target system (e.g., real-time performance, secure partitioning, and small footprint).

“Virtualization for embedded systems” should not be confused with another similar class of tools that allows embedded engineers to simulate the function of a range of processors and/or hardware systems (often under development and unavailable to a developer). VDC refers to these solutions as virtual system prototyping/simulation tools. Within the embedded tools market these solutions are also commonly referred to as:

  • Virtual system prototyping;
  • Virtual system simulation;
  • Virtual platforms; and/or
  • Virtualized software development.

Why?

The value proposition of virtualization in the Enterprise/IT space is well understood; however, the value proposition for embedded solutions extends beyond those driving growth within the IT market. Some of these drivers include:

  • Migration and adoption of new hardware architectures, such as multi-core processors, as a result of processor obsolescence, semiconductor advances, etc.
  • Ability to consolidate and make better use of hardware and application software
  • Need to leverage/re-use legacy software code, especially in instances where significant investment has been spent on development, testing and/or certification by one or more regulatory bodies
  • Continued importance of safety- and security-critical requirements
    Ability to enable a desired “user experience” while still ensuring determinism and/or security

  • Desire to isolate GPL-licensed or other open source code from proprietary code

Who?

Some of the vendors currently offering or developing virtualization solutions for embedded systems include:

  • Green Hills Software
  • LynuxWorks
  • Open Kernel Labs
  • Real Time Systems GmbH
  • SYSGO AG
  • TenAsys
  • VirtualLogix
  • VMware (recently acquired TRANGO Virtual Processors)
  • Wind River Systems

So What?

The diversity of embedded project requirements, software, and hardware, has created an opportunity for solutions that can ease the integration of applications, operating systems, and hardware platforms while also providing a vehicle to preserve legacy investments. We expect that an increasing number of embedded engineering teams will look toward virtualization as a development solution for their projects going forward.

Based on VDC’s 2008 Embedded Systems Engineering survey less than 5% of developers reported the use of virtualization in their current development project. Virtualization can certainly be employed to solve a variety of problems, but its value as a solution (and thus its adoption) will be measured against the potential for added cost, latency, resource consumption, and system complexity that comes with it.

Although developers’ expectations suggest that adoption is increasing, this growth is expected to remain moderate with use remaining below 10% for their next project. The intriguing questions going forward will be how this technology will be positioned and how it affects the greater embedded software and tool vendor competitive landscape.

  • What more can suppliers of virtualization technology do to help engineers understand what this technology offers and how this technology can be employed to solve real problems?
  • What will happen to the commercial viability of standalone virtualization vendors as larger companies with broader solution sets develop their own offerings?
  • Will the presence of a virtualization solution within a company’s product suite affect a development team’s choice of an OS (regardless of current need for virtualization)?
  • Will the evolution of advanced multiprocessing operating systems cannibalize any of the need or commercial market for virtualization solutions?
  • Finally, how will the current economy affect the adoption of new technologies like virtualization or multi-core processors?

VDC examines virtualization in greater depth in the recently published Industry Brief 1: Virtualization for Embedded Systems. The brief also includes profiles of the competing vendors as well as an examination of current and future project use of virtualization for embedded systems development.

We are interested in your thoughts. Please feel free to post comments.