Real-time Reality

I love Mondays. Most people hate them but I’ve always loved them. My family has grown to accept this. My co-workers have learned to tolerate this (it’s when I hold my staff meetings). On Monday mornings I’m energized from spending the weekend with my family, my mind is clear and I can look ahead to the week’s challenges and figure out how to tackle them.

My job at Wind River is to run our VxWorks business so I get to think about the challenges and realities of the real-time embedded software market a lot. It was one Monday morning when I first learned about our interest to buy the real-time Linux intellectual property of a company called FSMLabs, whose specialty is adding real-time capabilities to Linux (read the acquisition announcement).

I’ll be honest: my first reaction was concern about whether this would be bad for the VxWorks RTOS business.

But when I thought about what it means for Wind River, I liked the idea.

First, customers delineate their need for "soft" real-time and "hard" real-time for their system very precisely. In a nutshell, "soft" real-time systems have a requirement for a percent of processor resources within every time cycle. An application running in a "soft" real-time system has no sensitivity for how the resources are provided within that cycle. Failure to meet the requirement results in a degradation of service (some dropped calls or delays in responding to the user.) "Hard" real-time systems require a guaranteed response time even in the worst case scenario. Failure to meet the requirement results in system failure, sometimes catastrophic (like in airplane guidance systems or car braking systems, where VxWorks excels) and sometimes costly (like in metropolitan area-class IMS networking systems). There is always a continuum in requirements so your soft requirements are somebody else’s hard requirements. For the gory detail, read our whitepaper on this topic.

Some customers moved to open source to get the benefits: the perception that it’s "free", the wide developer base and the broad access to applications. At the same time they still needed real-time performance, and as Wind River expanded our real-time expertise into the Open Source space with Wind River Linux, the need for a hard real-time solution for Open Source became clear. The FSMLabs technology, RTCore, is the bridge between these two. It allows our customers to have a real choice for their soft and hard real-time Open Source environment. Granted this solution is proprietary, but it allows customers to innovate while protecting their IP. It also allows us to target areas where we have gaps. Paul Parkinson has addressed how hard real-time Linux could find applications for the A&D market .

We’ve also seen that customers who’ve dabbled in Open Source sometimes found the trade-offs too steep and have come back to VxWorks. The core strengths of VxWorks are well known: it’s deterministic, reliable, low latency, high performance, scalable from a microkernel up to a full-featured standards-conformant OS and has great integration with real-time system development tools. Customers have already made deep commitments to VxWorks platforms and have millions of lines of code to leverage. Furthermore, many customers have certification requirements that only VxWorks can support. John Bruggeman has blogged about Wind River’s commitment and continuing investment in VxWorks. VxWorks is a big business. And it continues to grow. Our existing customers understand this and know they can depend on the VxWorks platform to support their real-time product needs into the future.

Choice and flexibility are what our DSO solutions are all about. First, many customers have VxWorks requirements, but they also want real-time Linux. The addition of real-time-capable Linux allows us to offer customers the ability to choose which works better for them, to standardize under one set of tools and take advantage of our entire platforms across their business and across product generations. And as I see it this is only good news for the VxWorks: it expands our access to real-time customers overall and it makes it easier for customers to access VxWorks when the system requirements demand it.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the future of VxWorks. Most likely you’ll hear back from me on a Monday morning.