Oct 22, 2019 IoT / M2M

Virtualization Benefits: Virtualization for Embedded Systems

By Michel Genard

The latest connected technology trends are forcing old, closed, and purpose-built embedded systems to be modified or replaced. Older systems are giving way to new fluid, software-defined architectures. The critical component to this transition is virtualization, which has been used in enterprise IT for years but is just making its way into the embedded systems world. It’s providing a way to improve support and modernization for legacy systems, while also providing a platform to enable further evolution with the ability to run essentially any embedded system, old or new.

Organizations must be able to quickly develop solutions that can bridge their legacy systems with modern solutions.

Challenges in Supporting Legacy Embedded Systems
Right now, many manufacturers are facing the end of life of their legacy embedded systems. They need to be replaced or upgraded to fit with modern practices and architectures. This promises to be an expensive process, where it’s even possible. Some of the components are decades old. Left alone, they may be insecure, unsafe, or not meet new certification requirements.

At the same time, the workforce is changing. The engineers who built the original designs are retiring, and the new workforce wants to use a more mainstream approach.

An arguably even bigger problem is simply the requirements for shortening development cycles. While it may once have been viable to take a year or more to create a fixed-function embedded system on a distinct piece of hardware, the market cycle now demands more rapid changes.

What can be done? A lot of legacy embedded systems are here for the long term—35 to 45 years is not an uncommon life cycle for many industrial systems. They may not be modern, but the machines they run were built to last. Industrial control systems, for example, could have multi-decade lives, even if their digital components are hopelessly out of date. New solutions are emerging to address this dilemma.

Embedded systems were built to last—but as technology evolves, how can organizations keep up?

Virtualization Benefits
Fortunately, advances in hardware and virtualization have occurred in parallel with the changes besetting the world of embedded systems. It is now possible to overcome most of the difficulties inherent in having separate, purpose-built embedded systems, each running on separate proprietary hardware.

This is achieved by consolidating each separate embedded system within its applications and operating systems into its own virtual machine onto a single platform and hardware architecture.

As depicted in the image above, virtualization can place multiple embedded systems, each running its own OS, on one multicore silicon hardware. Advances in silicon design, processing power, and virtualization technology make all this possible. The same silicon can host more than one version of Linux along with multiple RTOS and other common legacy OSs.

Virtualization succeeds in abstracting the embedded system application and its OS from the underlying hardware. As a result of this innovation, it becomes possible to overcome many of the most serious challenges arising from legacy embedded systems.

Engineers gain:
• A significant increase in scalability and extensibility.
• Support for open frameworks and reuse of IP across devices.
• The ability to build solutions on open, standardized hardware that offers more powerful processing capabilities.
• Simplification of design and accompanying acceleration in time to market.
• Application consolidation within the device, which reduces the hardware footprint and costs related to the Bill of Materials (BOM) that comes with the development of a piece of hardware.
• Gradual learning curve, using the OS and programming languages they are comfortable with, deployed in a virtualized system.
• Ability to run multiple OSs/applications side by side.
• Isolation of each operating system and application instance, providing additional security and allowing both safety-certified operating environments and unsafe applications.
• Easier upgrades via new methodologies like DevOps, which simplifies the quick extension of new features.
• Faster response to security threats.

Virtualization for Embedded Systems with Wind River
The Wind River Helix Virtualization Platform is the solution to help realize the potential of virtualization in embedded systems. It supports a variety of OSs that can be run on multiple architectures to drive the smooth, safe, and concurrent operation of each application. When it comes to embedded systems, you want solutions that are secure, safe, reliable, and certifiable. The Helix Platform allows engineers to focus on designing great products without having to worry about the underlying components.

Interested in exploring how the Helix Platform can help you bridge your existing legacy systems with the future of modern and connected technologies? Download our eBook, Virtualization for Embedded Systems: A Bridge to the Future.

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