Unsuspecting Benefit of Virtualization

By Chris Ault

Ault_lg I came across an article the other day that was discussing forthcoming innovations in the automation industry. The article discusses how Ethernet is becoming ubiquitous for manufacturing, closing the numerous and incompatible communications protocols and media enabling communication among the various control and controlled systems. The article then goes on to draw industrial automation into the cloud for things such as inventory control and tighter relations between producers and consumers.

One aspect of embedded virtualization that we are focusing on is providing the ability to host general purpose operating systems, such as Linux or Windows, alongside real-time operating systems such as VxWorks on the same embedded device or equipment. In the manufacturing industry, using a hypervisor to run both VxWorks and Windows on the same robotic device allows the device to retain the real-time control while also interacting with standards-based management protocols such as SNMPCIM or WBEM over Ethernet.

A device like an automotive robot or printing press can keep its real-time OS and application intact while using a general-purpose OS for interacting with other management and control systems via Ethernet. Rather than modify the real-time control application to extend management functions, equipment manufacturers can extend the functionality of these devices by adding general purposes OSes that interact with non-real-time systems. The non-real-time components of the devices can interact with the corporate IT systems to report on health, status, progress, and inventory issues while also communicating with the real-time component of the devices via Ethernet.

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