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Multi-core Processing to Dominate Embedded Devices in 12-18 Months

News Analysis By Robert Liu, TMCnet Wireless and Technology Columnist


The challenges the firewall poses to voice over IP have been well documented. Those challenges of routing VoIP (define - news -alerts) traffic to traverse the network address translation (NAT) firewall securely, yet quickly, are greatly magnified when scaled out to the carrier-class or Central Office level. A number of software-based solutions, like Interactive Connectivity Establishment (ICE) or Simple Traversal of UDP over NATs (STUN), have been developed to address the issue. On the hardware side, session border controllers (SBCs) certainly help with scalability. But very little has been done outside of the general purpose computing environment until now.

With the advent of dual-core and 64-bit technologies, the brains on an integrated circuit board that processes thread after thread of control or data commands are also multiplying at a phenomenal rate. Within the next year or so, you will likely see multi-core becoming the dominant platform in the embedded devices market.

Its going to start coming on strong in the next 12 to 18 months, said Romain Saha, Netcom (news -alerts) Segment Manager for QNX Software Systems, a Canadian subsidiary of consumer electronics giant Harman International. Multi-core processing is well-suited for embedded applications so you will see that driving adoption.

QNX (often pronounced Q-Nix) makes the real-time operating system that runs inside of the CPU, whether thats on an x86-, PowerPC- or ARM-based processor. By March, QNX will be making its QNX Momentics development suite Multi-Core Edition, first announced last October, available to its customers to port legacy embedded designs or build new ones that can take advantage of multiple threads. With the release of the technology developer kit, the new Multi-Core Edition of the OS will be able to harness any variation of multi-core architecture, whether Symmetric or Asymmetric.

This is a version of our OS targeted at helping OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to make the migration from the uni-processor world to the multi-processor world, said Sebastien Marineau-Mes, Chief OS Architect for QNX Software Systems.

While a large portion of the embedded market targets applications specifically used for the military, automotive and industrial sectors, the networking realm could also greatly benefit from the increasing presence of multi-core technologies. Take, for example, Cisco Systems. At the heart of the networking giants CRS-1 Carrier Routing System is the Cisco IOS XR software, a self-healing, self-defending operating system based on QNX.

Based on a configuration that includes an ASIC-based solution handling data classification, parsing and other data plane management, symmetric multiprocessing architecture could increase the network control management to yield performance gains that close in on the 2x threshold, according to Toby Foster, a product marketing manager at Freescale Semiconductor.

Foster, however, cautions that many factors influence the performance gain that is seen when moving from a single core solution to a dual core symmetric multiprocessor solution. The inherent parallelism in the application itself is the most important factor, and the contention for shared resources can be a factor as well. Still, performance gains are undeniable when deploying symmetric multiprocessing because more processing resources are applied to solve the problem.

For its part, Freescale argues that it has marketed asymmetric multiprocessing in one form or another for more than 10 years now. With its line of PowerQUICC communication processors, Freescale has shipped more than 200 million units to more than 500 customers, said Mike Shoemake, Business Manager of the Digital Systems Division at Freescale Semiconductor.

Since its inception, the line has been designed with a single-core PowerPC processor and a second 32-bit RISC-based communications processor (CPM) to handle data and control management. In the past, Freescale has designed the CPM component, also known as its QUICC Engine, with dual- or quad-cores. But with the production of its MPC8641D last October, Freescale now offers a dual-core PowerPC to complement its QUICC Engine.

Folks like QNXs Marineau-Mes believe that trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Its really a paradigm shift. A challenge in the industry is either you adapt to the new world or your competitors will. Its not a question of if, but when and who will be able to adapt and who will not, the Chief OS Architect explained. IT

Robert Liu is Executive Editor at TMCnet.Previously, he was Executive Editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles, please visit Robert Lius columnist page.

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