Switching Gears: Moving Systems to VxWorks from QNX

For embedded systems development teams, a real-time operating system (RTOS) is a major investment in cost, in training for developers, and in maintenance and upgrades. A decision to migrate from one RTOS to another is obviously not a step undertaken lightly. Here we briefly examine some of the dynamics in modern embedded systems development and how catering to these is crucial in the forward thinking needed for a migration decision.

Real-Time Embedded Systems Development: A Changing World

QNX and VxWorks® are both stalwarts in the embedded systems domain, each with strengths and a dedicated user base, and both are navigating a modern embedded systems development world that is undergoing change.

Time-to-Market Is Crucial

Modern embedded systems engineering teams are increasingly adopting IT-like methodologies and approaches, such as “shift-left” to bring software testing into the development lifecycle earlier while also minimizing dependence on difficult-to-procure hardware. DevSecOps principles are becoming more commonplace, ensuring a strong security focus, improved team collaboration and efficiencies, and streamlined delivery and deployment. Additionally, the use of OCI-compliant containers and container orchestration helps remove manual errors, standardize tools, and accelerate the rate of product iterations.

The RTOS for these modern teams must have all these capabilities, via the appropriate cloud-based technologies. These are key aspects of VxWorks with AWS Graviton support for shift-left, Wind River® Studio Developer for DevSecOps, and OCI-compliant container and Kubernetes support for efficient deployment and operation.

Teams considering migration need to factor in these forward-looking methods of achieving improved time-to-market.

Enabling High-Performance Functions Is Key

Intelligent edge systems increasingly require high-performance capabilities. Cost-effective integration of AI/ML capability is one such requirement. Another is Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN), which ensures that high-priority mission-critical data is not delayed or dropped when combined with lower-priority data on the Ethernet network that connects system modules, components, and devices.

Supporting this natively in the RTOS is the approach taken with VxWorks, which facilitates this without relying on third-party support. With TSN capability rapidly becoming a default requirement, development teams need to carefully consider how their RTOS provides it.

Scalability Is a Norm

Advances in silicon technology not only bring multi-core processors but also new processor architectures. It’s important that an RTOS vendor maintains and grows its list of supported boards from major vendors.

The need for a system to scale for mixed-criticality use cases (performing safety-critical and nonsafety-critical functions while isolating them from each other) has become common. High-performance hypervisor technology, such as Wind River Helix™ Virtualization Platform, allows VxWorks and other guest operating systems to meet the demands of mixed criticality.        

The Emphasis on Safety and Security Will Only Increase

The engineering lifecycle of the RTOS itself needs close consideration. A secure development lifecycle, enforced by policy and implemented with processes and procedures such as those defined by NIST SP800-218, fosters trust in a product that is considered secure by design. CVE tracking and mitigation of vulnerabilities is also critical for ongoing use.

Functional safety certification per the relevant industry, be it aerospace and defense, automotive, medical, or wider industrial safety, are crucial for any RTOS. Engineering teams must be able to achieve certification of their designs cost-effectively.  

These safety and security design considerations are front and center in every release of VxWorks.

​​​​​​​It's No Longer Only About Real Time

Embedded systems increasingly are also running Linux operating systems for nonreal-time applications. A one-stop shop that brings industry-leading RTOS and Linux products into one portfolio is increasingly attractive. A migration decision should factor in the potential savings in cost and engineering time when dealing with a single-vendor solution.

​​​​​​​Old School Hype: A Thing of the Past

It’s important to put some modern-day context around certain well-worn phrases and debates, to ensure that these do not influence decisions about RTOS migration.

​​​​​​​Determinism Is Table Stakes

The very nature of a real-time embedded system for mission-critical deployment the braking system in a car, controlling robotic movement on a factory floor, aircraft or spacecraft flight/weapons control these all demand a repeatable, predictable response within strictly defined time parameters, for a given set of conditions. Nothing else is acceptable. So determinism, while essential, is a much-marketed phrase in the RTOS world and really isn’t a topic of debate.

​​​​​​​RTOS Architecture Is Largely Irrelevant

Seasoned embedded systems developers know well the microkernel versus monolithic debate when it comes to RTOS architectures. Arguments will always be made as to which is superior, and an opinionated, computer science-oriented debate often ensues. At such times it can be argued that the VxWorks monolithic architecture is superior. In reality, however, it is the system specification, deployment, application software design, and silicon/electronics that determine system performance. That’s what matters, not what’s under the hood of the RTOS. That’s a topic very much past its sell-by date.

​​​​​​​A New World Awaits: A Time to Explore

Our webinar Seamless RTOS Transition: Migrating to VxWorks” explores the case for migration, its key technical considerations, and the world beyond migration with ongoing Wind River support.

Our experts delve into technical detail in the above areas and more, including libraries and dependencies, system services, and hardware drivers. They explain how seamless the migration process can be, with Wind River backing you every step of the way.

Whether you’re an embedded systems engineer, project manager, or decision-maker, this webinar will help you understand the benefits migration could bring to your teams. Further, it will equip you with practical knowledge and strategies to ensure a successful migration and maximized performance of your embedded applications.

Register Now


About the author

Alan Stranaghan is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Wind River