Wind River, Embedded OS Vendors Dip Their Toes In Channel Waters For First Time

Traditional players embrace channel model as Microsoft, Linux invade their turf

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Top vendors of embedded, realtime operating systems are for the first time dipping their toes into channel waters to fight off the encroachment of Windows, Linux and BSD on their turf.

Wind River Systems, the leading provider of a realtime embedded operating system known as VxWorks, for example, unveiled this week its first reselling agreement with semiconductor distributor the Memec Group to resell its development tools.

Under terms of the agreement, Memec, San Diego, can sell Wind River's vision ICE, visionProbe, visionTrace and Diab C++ Compiler.

Alameda, Calif.-based Wind River is also mulling the possibility of authorizing partners to resell its more popular VxWorks realtime operating system and Tornado integrated development environment, and has other reseller deals in negotiations, executives from the 22-year-old company said.

"Candidly, having a complementary channel strategy is not [something] Wind River has engaged in, so moving in this direction is new for us," said Ken Edoff, Wind River's vice president of sales for the Americas. "We're looking to expand our channel significantly. That's why we're going to market with a bundled platform strategy, and a channel strategy that can get it broad account coverage."

Until now, dedicated embedded software vendors relied almost exclusively on direct sales. However, the entry of more channel-friendly commodity OS vendors into the embedded space and growing acceptance of Microsoft's Windows XP Embedded and CE.Net, as well as Linux-based embedded systems from Montevista Software and TimeSys, are forcing traditional players to adopt new channel pricing and product models.

Wind River executives acknowledged that the complexity and custom nature of embedded systems development has precluded the company from embracing a channel model in the past, but that is changing as the market increasingly demands integrated solutions.

While Wind River claims to be the first embedded software company to move products through indirect channels, competitive market factors are driving traditional players and startups to embrace a channel strategy for the first time as well.

For instance, QNX Systems, a Wind River competitor in the realtime embedded OS market, plans to launch on Feb. 18 its QNX Solutions Network partner program and first reseller partner. The first distributor is ATS Technologies, which targets the industrial, process automation and office automation markets. ATS will offer software development services on the QNX Neutrino RTOS and QNX Momentics development suite, training for customers, consulting, on-site and technical support.

Ottawa-based QNX Systems also plans to name additional reselling partners and distributors in March, executives said.

The push to the channel model is also inspiring startups in the solution provider market. At the Embedded Systems Conference last quarter, another group of former Wind River executives unveiled a startup systems integration and consulting company called Embedded Solutions Partners.

The Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider helps organizations manage the complexities of selecting, licensing and integrating software for embedded devices. One of its first customers, Sleepycat Software, which makes the open-source Berkeley database, is working with Embedded Solution Partners to better penetrate the market. It is the company's first foray outside of direct sales.

Berkeley DB runs on all major operating systems, including embedded and nonembedded Linux, MacOS X, QNX, Unix, Wind River's VxWorks and Windows. "We saw an opportunity to target embedded device makers and chose Embedded Solution Partners as our first channel sales partner to bring our solutions to this fast-growing market," said Michael Olson, CEO of Sleepycat Software.

The embedded systems market is very fragmented, analysts said. Microsoft and Linux vendors such as Montevista Software, Lineo and Timesys are taking aim at consumer devices such as handhelds and PDAs, retail point of sale and kiosks, and other appliances. In addition, Wasabi Systems is an emerging player in the embedded space whose NetBSD OS offers a small footprint and advanced networking capabilities for next-generation embedded systems such as cell phones, telecom switches and cable set-top boxes.

Meanwhile, special-purpose, realtime embedded OS vendors such as Wind River and QNX are trying to stay ahead in particular markets, especially industrial automation and network equipment sectors, by embracing the channel and providing integrated solutions that make it easier for channel partners to support and customers to deploy, analysts said.

"The embedded space is different than the way we think about reselling desktop software, and it's not the same kind of channel where you have lots of VARs and ASPs for IT products," said Paul Zorfass, senior analyst at IDC/First technology Inc.

"OEMs have their own engineering teams, but they are looking for a broader scope of Integrated products offerings and tools," he added. "Wind River recognizes that OEMs are looking for a broad solution of software and services and are more comfortable on subscriptions in their cost-constrained budgets."

Wind River, for instance, unveiled last October its first market-specific integrated embedded platforms, called Wind River Platforms, and a new enterprisewide, subscription-based licensing model--the first pricing model of its kind in the industry, executives claim. The vertical platform includes Wind River Platforms for Consumer Devices, Industrial Devices, Network Equipment and Server Appliances.

By partnering with distributors and solution providers, makers of embedded operating systems and hardware can offer customers more value-added solutions than in the past, Wind River executives said.

"It's a win-win for us and Memec," said Wind River's Edoff. "Our products are bundled together with Memec [offerings] to allow them to differentiate theirs from the competition."

Memec executives agree. Wind River's OS support across a wide spectrum of processor architectures will enable it to provide integrated embedded solutions.

"Memec's goal is to offer expertise in embedded applications and processor applications. Reselling Wind River's integrated platforms brings us closer to that goal," said David Ashworth, president and CEO of Memec. "In addition to selling devices, we can now offer customers a complete suite of development tools. With Wind River as a partner, we now have one vendor who provides us with development tools appropriate for a wide range of processor architectures."

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