Virtualization is expanding from server applications to the mobile space of smartphones, automotive systems, and M2M systems. It is poised to address security issues while also reducing hardware costs for these connected systems.
In today’s world, virtualization is ubiquitous. From on-site hosting services to the ever-expanding cloud, server virtualization has become the expected course of action. Securely separated virtual machines on cloud platforms can serve customers with widely varying business models and services side by side, isolated by trusty hypervisors. Now the use of virtualization is spreading far beyond its basic server roots.
Virtualization for embedded systems
The mobile and embedded worlds are hungry for virtualization technology, as devices become increasingly more powerful and ubiquitous. Virtualization presents many benefits for several areas of embedded computing, including increased security and isolation, better migration, faster time to market, enhanced CPU utilization, and cost savings.
As smartphones become the hub that manages people’s personal and working lives, the hardware driving them is rapidly becoming as powerful as desktop and laptop computers. More powerful hardware equals higher resolution content, and creates better mobile capability opportunities for mobile device manufacturers. Smartphone makers have used virtualization technology to consolidate hardware and run modem software and Android on a single chip, thereby reducing the total cost of smartphones in developing markets to as low as $30.
For example, smartphones today are comprised of two CPUs: one for communication (2G, 3G, LTE) and one dedicated to running applications. This architecture is mandatory to make sure an ill-written app or malware will not compromise the integrity of the cellular network. The two systems are certified independently and have different base Operating Systems (OSs) and life cycles. However, this also raises the cost of the phone and the power consumption. With virtualization, device manufacturers are able to build ultra-low-cost phones based on a single chip that runs both OSs – isolated and securely separated – to address developing markets’ needs for low-cost hardware.
Automotive companies are becoming more and more aware of the importance of a technology-driven user experience inside the car. The infotainment, navigation, telematics, and rear-seat entertainment systems are becoming high-end embedded systems that can be updated continuously with new applications and features, providing an opportunity for auto manufacturers to offer new entertainment and safety services throughout the car’s lifetime. Paired with the fact that the car of tomorrow will always be connected – to the Internet, to other cars, and to roadside infrastructure – the need for additional computing power increases, as does the need to properly isolate open-world systems from the car’s mission-critical internal functions, such as braking.
So, when combining consumer electronics and automotive-grade systems, a proper separation should be put in place to disallow any malware or misbehaved applications from gaining access to the car’s functionality. By using virtualization inside the vehicle, several high- and low-end systems can be consolidated to run on the same hardware, eliminating miles of cabling and redundant hardware, thereby reducing fuel consumption, battery drainage, and, ultimately, the car’s cost – all while keeping the systems securely isolated.
For example, today’s car manufacturers and their Tier 1 technology providers are looking into running an infotainment system that includes navigation, multimedia, and climate control on the same chip in a “digital instrument dashboard.” The infotainment system is by nature open and Internet-connected and thus open to outside attacks, while other mission-critical driving instrument systems cannot afford to be compromised. Installing the two systems on the same embedded device can yield up to several hundreds of dollars in saving per unit, and ultimately tens of millions of dollars in savings per year.
In our connected world, and in the spirit of the Internet of Things (IoT), more and more devices are becoming “always connected” and remotely controlled. Vending machines, power and water meters, and communication equipment – all of these small-to-medium size devices are becoming Internet-ready to reduce the cost of management, enable better repair and control, and offer innovative consumer services like pay-as-you-go energy consumption. But when these systems require multiple functions or must be properly customized for different needs and markets, another CPU chip or virtualization is required to securely run multi-function software stacks with no cross-influence.
For example, M2M module vendors use virtualization to reduce costs by running a modem stack and an application stack to enable their customers to produce applications, migrate legacy code to newer chips and modules, and to maintain different lifecycles, enable independent certification processes, and provide cross-system fault tolerance.
ARM and virtualization make powerful impact on next-gen network servers
As the embedded world grows in power and functionality, it is also important that datacenter technology continues to grow with it in terms of low power and efficiency. For this purpose, ARM-based chips are much more power efficient than their x86 counterparts, and virtualization can still play a role to further optimize these systems.
Researchers today believe that shifting to ARM-based data centers can reduce power consumption by orders of magnitude for data warehouses. In addition, moving to an ARM-based architecture can enable such service providers to custom-tailor and fine-tune their offerings down to the chip and circuit level. This approach can yield hardware/software utilization unachieved by x86-based systems. Given that virtualization is a core element in modern data center technology, this new breed of power-saving server farms will need virtualization to optimize CPU utilization. The sheer amount of energy that can be saved make this a very compelling use case that has the capacity to disrupt the entire server industry.
The future is virtualized
Virtualization technology is already widely implemented in millions of systems, and other virtualization methods continue to be developed. The benefits of new services and cheaper “things,” combined with improved security, will make people’s everyday lives better. If embedded system developers can conclude anything from the impact virtualization has had on server technology, mobile virtualization is about to transform embedded computing by being a part of every little – and not so little – thing.
Red Bend Software