Wind River Future-Proofs Industrial IoT With New Helix Edge Platform

Wind River CEO Jim Douglas believes the future of the industrial Internet of Things is all about autonomy— systems running and responding to events on their own—but to ensure that shift happens, critical infrastructure needs a smooth transition to new development environments.

The solution for Wind River is virtualization, allowing multiple operating systems to run at once on an edge device so that legacy software can continue to run while new applications are developed. Unveiled this week, the solution is called the Wind River Helix Virtualization Platform, and Douglas said it's a "critical building block" to help the company's customers accelerate down the path of intelligent, autonomous systems, which he calls "the next big economic driver" in the industry.

[Related: SAP Launches Leonardo IoT To Meld Physical Data With Business Apps]

Designed to enable the modernization of legacy systems in critical infrastructure, the Helix Platform brings together the company's real-time operating system (RTOS) and an embedded distribution of Linux within a single edge compute platform that can also run other operating systems. The goal is to future-proof these systems while also enabling them to continue running with no downtime, which is critical for the aerospace, automotive, defense and industrial sectors that Wind River serves.

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A "critical component" of transitioning from automated systems to autonomous systems, Douglas said, is "moving intelligence to the edge." To accommodate that, "systems are going to have to become much more heterogeneous, both from a hardware standpoint and from a software perspective," he added.

Heterogeneity in hardware means expanding beyond general-purpose CPUs and using new kinds of components, such as accelerators made by Intel and Xilinx. From the software side, this means having an operating environment and different kinds of workloads, which is where Helix Platform comes in.

Most of Wind River's customers have legacy software running on their systems that can be decades old, according to Douglas. To modernize their systems, they need to ensure that they can continue to run that legacy software well into the future while they develop and adopt new applications.

"One of the key things we'll hear from customers all the time is, 'Boy, we need an asset bridge, and I've written billions of lines of code that is still functional. I want to be able to maintain that,'" Douglas said.

With the Helix Platform, Wind River is targeting three use cases. The first use case concerns highly regulated systems, like an aircraft or spacecraft system, that need to be completely isolated to ensure that it never fails. The second is a system that may need multiple operating systems for different workload requirements but doesn't have stringent requirements for how isolated any of the workloads are. The third is a system that has "mixed criticality," where one workload needs to always have access to the proper amount of compute resources while other workloads on the same platform don't.

According to Douglas, one industrial control application customer, which he is unable to name, is using Helix Platform to run Wind River's VxWorks RTOS for modern control systems, its own legacy operating system for executing a few control algorithms and a Linux distribution for various applications, including a human-machine interface.

One analyst said Wind River's Helix Platform helps address emerging issues in IoT development.

"Today’s IoT system development requires more sophisticated and streamlined software development offerings," Chris Rommel, executive vice president at VDC Research, said in a statement. The Helix Platform, he added, "targets this need, providing a flexible platform capable of addressing the complex and heterogeneous compute requirements of tomorrow’s devices."

It's been nearly nine months since Wind River was sold by chipmaker Intel to private equity firm TPG Capital. In a previous interview with CRN, Douglas said that the Alameda, Calif.-based company's growth had been hamstrung under Intel's ownership because of competing priorities and certain limitations, including the inability to have strategic relationships with other silicon providers.

Now that Wind River is independent, the company is working with multiple semiconductor companies, including NXP, Xilinx and Arm. Douglas said over the past nine months, Wind River has been working with Intel and other silicon makers to get strategically aligned on product road maps.

"It's a very healthy situation for our customers," he said.

Echoing previous comments made to CRN, Douglas said that Wind River is still mostly focused on direct sales while using channel partners to reach certain geographic regions throughout the world where it doesn't have its own sales force. Channel partners and distributors include Arrow, Avnet, IT Access Corporation and New Level Telecom Co.

"We're not typically selling into that as a channel. We're selling to the box builders who are actually building equipment," Douglas said.