Wind River outfits VxWorks for 'Internet of things'

VxWorks features a modular architecture and the option to run a 20KB micro-kernel

The new version of Wind River's VxWorks real time operating system features a regular kernel for larger devices and a 20KB micro-kernel for smaller ones.

The new version of Wind River's VxWorks real time operating system features a regular kernel for larger devices and a 20KB micro-kernel for smaller ones.

Wind River Systems has updated its widely used VxWorks embedded RTOS (real-time operating system) to make it ready for use on impending "Internet of things" systems.

"Stand-alone devices that are running VxWorks are now being connected, and when they connected, security, scalability and networking are key," said Prashant Dubal, VxWorks product manager.

The new version of the OS anticipates the needs of the emerging IoT market by including a new graphics stack, enhanced connectivity options, hardened security and an option to run a micro-kernel for small devices.

The Internet of things is not a network, but a buzzphrase describing the growing use of network-connected embedded microprocessors, often connected to sensors or other data-gathering instruments.

Because microprocessors are now so inexpensive and networks are so pervasive, such embedded systems could provide a wealth of data that organizations in most industries could use to monitor and improve operations. The collection of data from these systems requires additional gateways and other additional infrastructure to collect and filter the data.

"Customers are looking for an OS to run all of these things," Dubal said.

VxWorks is one of the most widely used OSes in the embedded market. It has been installed on over 1.5 billion devices and can run on a wide range of processor architectures. The OS is run on many NASA space missions, for instance, such as the Mars Curiosity rover.

As an RTOS, VxWorks guarantees that it executes processes within a predefined period of time. OSes typically can not make this guarantee as system processes can temporarily slow execution of some tasks, an artifact called jitter.

Wind River redesigned VxWorks so it features two kernels, one for large processors and the other, a micro-kernel, for smaller processors, like the kind that would power edge devices with low compute capacity. The micro-kernel is only 20KB, and can run on 32-bit processors (though not 8-bit or 16-bit processors).

This approach can help organizations build IoT systems. Edge devices with minimal hardware can use the micro-kernel, and the gateway devices that collect information from the edge devices, typically have larger processors, Dubal said. Organizations would benefit by having the same OS run on both the edge devices and gateways.

The OS has also been reconfigured into a modular architecture, separating components such as the file system and the networking stack, allowing updates to be made to individual components without the restarting the entire OS. This also can simplify certification processes, because the entire code base won't have to be inspected, only the parts to be certified.

As a security measure, the new version of the OS features a safety partitioning module, which keeps the mission critical applications apart from the noncritical applications.

Wind River has expanded the range of communication protocols native to VxWorks, including USB, Bluetooth, FireWire, Continua and CAN (Controller Area Network) for vehicles. The company has also added a new graphics stack, given the increasing number of devices that have screens. The kernel can now also host a hypervisor, making it possible to run Linux and Windows applications on VxWorks.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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