Virtualization software addresses new demand for MicroTCA in industrial applications

Industrial, medical, and other applications can employ virtualization to take advantage of MicroTCA systems and migrate software to new multicore architectures such as the Intel Core Microarchitecture.

The Micro Telecom Computing Architecture (MicroTCA) standard enabling the direct integration of AdvancedMC cards originated in the telecommunication industry to address the equipment needs in the Access Network (for example, base stations, radio network controllers, and WiMAX access controllers). Didier explains that a new trend involves MicroTCA for other embedded market segments like industrial automation and medical applications. This trend could be accelerated with recent developments that make it possible to bring the benefits of virtualization to embedded industrial applications.

Although industrial applications require more and more computing power (for such things as image processing), they do not usually need sophisticated redundancy concepts or elaborate system management schemes. It makes sense that simplified MicroTCA implementations, as proposed by some embedded computing industry leaders, are increasingly recognized as viable solutions that can fit the demand for cost-sensitive and robust systems to be deployed in a small form factor. (One example is the Kontron OM6062 MicroTCA 6-slot AdvancedMC platform, Figure 1).

Figure 1

Multicore processors mature

At the same time that AdvancedTCA and MicroTCA are helping lower costs and reduce development time while offering higher availability, multicore processors have matured, offering more processing power at lower power consumption. These benefits are integrated into products that are ready to enter the embedded system world, not just the telecommunication market segment. In particular, AdvancedMC processor modules equipped with the latest Intel Core 2 Duo processors have been developed to reduce the bill of materials for high-performance embedded systems.

However, the reuse of existing applications assuming the uniprocessor paradigm is not on auto pilot. It often requires a significant effort to exploit the new multicore architecture processing power. And it can be challenging to combine the real-time constraints of an industrial application with the need for a general-purpose OS such as Linux or Windows.

Virtualization software for embedded systems

Virtualization software with the support of Intel VT technology is an attractive way to achieve substantial hardware consolidation by enabling multiple operating systems with their native device drivers to run unmodified, reducing the multicore migration effort and improving time-to-market.

Virtualization allows a Virtual Machine Monitor's (VMM) isolated partitions to each support its own OS targeted at specific needs (Figure 2). Applications running on each OS behave as if running on a single-core processor.

Figure 2

Traditional software virtualization is usually not considered suitable for embedded systems that use industrial platforms, mainly due to strong limitations regarding real-time performance and the lack of support for industrial I/O devices.

Virtualization for real-time systems makes running different types of OSs on the same multicore processor a reality. These OSs can be commercial or home-grown Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOSs) associated with a general-purpose OS.

Running real-time OS

VLX Embedded, based on VirtualLogix's Real-Time Virtualization technology, enables performance-critical embedded systems with strong requirements in terms of security or cost to execute multiple OSs on shared single- or multicore processors (Figure 3). More specifically, VLX Embedded can run one or several instances of a real-time OS and/or a general-purpose OS (Windows or Linux) in their own partitions, securely isolated from each other. It maintains the determinism and high performance that most industrial applications require. With these capabilities, system manufacturers can deploy real-time virtualization technology while realizing the benefits of reduced bill of material costs, optimized performance, and lower power consumption.

Figure 3

Real-time virtualization for data acquisition and control

Leveraging the new dual-core low voltage Intel processors on AdvancedMC in a MicroTCA chassis to consolidate industrial control systems makes sense. Such systems traditionally comprise several separate computing elements. As shown in Figure 4, a good example is a system that runs an RTOS to execute real-time data acquisition and control functions as critical tasks, while Windows XP serves as a development and user interface platform.

Figure 4

The configuration depicted in Figure 4 allows the platform's hardware resources to be shared and offers secure communica-tion channels between the OS partitions. With virtual drivers designers can access shared devices or manage the low-level communication between the virtual machines. From the OS interface, a virtual driver looks and acts exactly the same as a native driver used for access to a physical device.


Virtualization for real-time systems enables OEMs in the industrial, medical, and similar markets to take advantage of MicroTCA systems while easily migrating their existing software to new multicore architectures such as the Intel Core Microarchitecture. This solution combines the richness and openness of general-purpose OSs, with the reuse of real-time applications already validated and deployed. Embedded designers can consolidate multiple legacy systems at minimum cost without sacrificing performance, security, or the ability to use native system and application development tools.

Didier Irlande, Senior Marketing Manager, is responsible for developing and implementing field marketing plans for VirtualLogix - Europe, and is part of the company's global marketing team. He graduated from the University of Paris with an Electronics and Mechanics engineering degree.