Xen Project Community Spotlight: DornerWorks

The Xen Project is comprised of a diverse set of member companies and contributors that are committed to the growth and success of the Xen Project Hypervisor. The Xen Project Hypervisor is a staple technology for server and cloud vendors, and is gaining traction in the embedded, security and automotive space. This blog series highlights the companies contributing to the changes and growth being made to the Xen Project, and how the Xen Project technology bolsters their business.

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Name: Robert VanVossen
Title: Embedded Engineer
Company: DornerWorks

When did you join the Xen Project and why/how is your organizations involved?DornerWorks has been involved with Xen Project since 2011 when we submitted the ARINC653 scheduler to the mainline. Through a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the US NAVY, we worked to develop some ARINC653 extensions to the Xen Project Hypervisor. This led to DornerWorks gaining expertise in the Xen Project Hypervisor and we combined this expertise with our knowledge of the embedded world to help our customers design the embedded virtualization solutions they need. This formed the basis for our Virtuosity product (a hypervisor distribution based on the Xen Project) and design services around embedded hypervisors.

DornerWorks still tries to propagate changes and bug fixes to the Xen Project Mainline whenever we can as we take great pride in being a part of this community. We want to help improve both the technology and the community through our work.

How does your involvement benefit your company?
A hypervisor is a complex piece of technology and DornerWorks is a small company.  By colloborating with the larger Xen community, DornerWorks is able to provide a competitive embedded virtualization solution without needing to become an expert at all the technology areas encapsulated in Xen Project technologies.

As a primarily services based company, the Xen Project community also provides us with an indirect marketing platform. The opportunity to publicly showcase our contributions and present on technical topics at Xen Project conferences allows us to share our expertise with the community while getting our name in front of potential customers.

The Xen Project community has also been instrumental in encouraging Xen’s use in embedded platforms, which while different from Xen’s original cloud based goals, is an area poised for growth in virtualization implementations.

How does the Xen Project’s technology help your business?
Xen Project technologies provide a basis for services that we provide to our customers. Through the DornerWorks Virtuosity distribution (http://dornerworks.com/xen/virtuosity), we give customers the means to get started quickly prototyping with Xen on embedded systems. From there, we provide services to refine their solution or develop new components around Xen that they may need, such as new guest OS, new PV drivers, etc. We also provide a Quick Start Package (http://dornerworks.com/xen/xen-quick-start) to help train others on Xen, virtualization, and specific platforms. This is a good option for both those that are just getting their feet wet and those that want to know all the nitty-gritty details.

What are some of the major changes you see with virtualization?
We see virtualization becoming more and more of a necessity in the embedded world. As the complexity of processors increases, the difficulty of utilizing them increases. Processors, like the Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC, that have a Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A53, a Dual-Core ARM Cortex-R5, and an FPGA in a single chip, can be difficult to manage. Virtualization provides a means to isolate out various pieces in a more manageable and effective way. Not only does the Xen Project Hypervisor help manage complexity, but it also can reduce size, weight, and power (SWaP), provide redundancy, address obsolescence of legacy systems, and more.

However, while the temptation is to use virtualization to create a single integrated platform for all computation, this approach could create a single point of failure unless it is mitigated by system wide redundancies. In these applications, Xen Project technologies can be used to provide an embedded “cloud,” which provides the reliability required by the application with a large measure of integration. This approach is both familiar and different in embedded applications, which frequently use both hardware and software to provide both isolation and redundancy, but have traditionally leaned more on hardware based solutions.

What advice would you give someone considering joining the Xen Project?
Just jump in and get involved. Go to the conferences, meet people, submit patches, review patches, ask questions, and enjoy yourself. It is a great community that is friendly, open, and has a lot of people with similar goals. They want to help each other and improve the technologies we are all utilizing. I have personally had a blast at the Developer’s Summit and look forward to going to more.

What excites you most about the future of Xen?
I am excited to see hardware become more virtualization friendly. When Xen can utilize these features, the overhead added to the system can be decreased even further than it already has been. This will help make the Xen Project Hypervisor an even more attractive solution in the embedded space.

Embedded hypervisors have been around for a long time, but with the increasingly complex SoCs being produced by chip vendors and the industry drive towards system integration, the number of deployed hypervisor based embedded systems continues to increase. While it has taken longer than we thought when we first joined the Xen Project community, we can see the fruits of these efforts starting to pay off.  We are excited to be a part of the many Xen Project contributors putting Xen in systems quite different from the cloud, utilizing the same underlying technologies in order to provide the security and reliability we have become accustomed to in cloud applications to embedded ones.

Additionally when we first started working with the Xen Project there was not much talk about the safety certification of Xen, but with the increasing interest of the automotive industry in hypervisors, we are seeing a lot of discussion and progress on this front. There is still a long way to go, but at least the will is currently there.

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