Rise of the multi-OS

December 01, 2009

Rise of the multi-OS

Multiple OS deployment is taking off in asymmetric multiprocessing systems.

ECD: First, explain the Embedded Alley acquisition.

PERRY: In acquiring Embedded Alley Solutions in July 2009, we addressed two trends that we’re seeing in embedded device development today. The first is the huge demand for Google’s Android platform for new types of devices beyond just mobile devices. The second trend is the growth and need of multiple OS deployment in multicore systems.

We now give our customers the opportunity to combine a hard Real-Time Operating System (RTOS) and corresponding middleware – namely, our Nucleus products with general-purpose OSs like Linux or Android. This also addresses issues such as power savings, lower bill-of-materials cost, performance optimization, and technical advancements in 3D graphical user interfaces like our Nucleus Graphics product, which works with Nucleus and Linux as well.

ECD: How do you see embedded Linux and Mentor’s Nucleus RTOS working together?

PERRY: The combination of embedded Linux and Mentor’s Nucleus RTOS is really exciting for us, particularly for multi-OS on multicore systems.

We see multiple OS deployment taking off in Asymmetric Multiprocessing (AMP) systems. The OSs can be sectioned off so the general-purpose OS handles control plane activities, such as user interface and application management. Meanwhile, the RTOS handles data plane activities that tend to require hard, real-time performance and strict security management, such as motor control, data computation, fast boot, and safety/critical applications.

Our Nucleus OS has a long-standing history in AMP applications, where it’s currently deployed in more than 1.6 billion mobile handsets. We’ve learned a great deal about multiple OS requirements over the years.

ECD: “Virtualization” is everywhere. What’s your stance?

PERRY: We are developing an array of technologies including virtualization and interprocess communication, both internally and partnered with outside companies to support multi-OS configurations. We’ve quickly learned that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for virtualization. Each application has specific requirements that necessitate careful choices in implementation, and our services organization with the addition of Embedded Alley has expanded expertise to help.

ECD: You’ve mentioned Android; how does it fit into your strategy?

PERRY: Android is developed and supported by Google and the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), so it’s seen as a phone market solution. Since Android is built on Linux, it can provide a broad range of rich and exciting user experiences beyond mobile handsets. This includes a wide variety of applications from consumer and industrial products to medical instruments to automotive infotainment systems.

By running our Nucleus RTOS on one or more cores in a multicore processor, Android can manage other functions, such as the graphical user interface or low-level code, while Nucleus manages real-time functions.

ECD: Given all that, what would you say is the one overriding trend that will reshape the way devices are developed in this new decade?

PERRY: I really don’t believe there’s just one. Clearly, multicore for embedded is a trend. Also, the availability of integrated solutions extending up the software stack changes the focus in embedded software development. Implementation of multi-OS solutions that build on Android and/or Linux will shift focus from implementation of components to system integration, requiring more attention to the challenges of overall system performance, optimization, and verification.

I would also place my bet on the importance of System-on-Chip (SoC) power management. Five years ago, timing closure was the focal point for SoC design teams. Today, it’s power optimization. The catch: Hardware power optimization must be exploited by the software implementation. In my experience, most software engineers are not focused on power optimization. The task tends to be relegated to a few specialists, often toward the end of the software implementation phase.

Enabling all embedded software engineers to deal with power optimization provides tremendous opportunities for system power optimization. This requires moving the power knobs from the esoteric hardware domain into a context that is familiar to software development engineers. Mentor’s long history in power optimization for SoC hardware design combined with our embedded software expertise places us in a great position to bridge these two worlds.


Glenn Perry is general manager of the Embedded Systems Division of Mentor Graphics, based in Wilsonville, Oregon. Prior to joining Mentor in 1999, Glenn held engineering and management positions at Analogy (now Synopsys), Harris Semiconductor, Sandia National Laboratories, and the United States Air Force Weapons Laboratory. Glenn studied Electrical Engineering in the USAF and at the University of New Mexico.

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