Wednesday Jun 01, 2011

Embedded Systems Conference San Jose

The annual Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose was held at the beginning of May. This was Oracle’s first year at the conference, and we did get visitors who were surprised to see us there. However some people, myself included, think we're going to see increased convergence between enterprise and embedded in the coming years. I know we're not alone, because a certain other big name in enterprise systems had a booth right next to ours!

Since embedded is not a topic everyone is familiar with, I want to give a little insight into this conference and the embedded space in general, as I think it is potentially an important growth area for products like Berkeley DB. Since I was an embedded developer myself in a past life, this is familiar territory for me.

Wikipedia defines embedded systems as "a computer system designed to do one or a few dedicated and/or specific functions." It is important to note that embedded is generally considered to be distinct from mobile. Mobile platforms are typically derived in some way from desktop platforms such as Linux, Windows, OSX, and are often more general purpose devices. Before the advent of cheap, high-res, general purpose LCD displays, having a display in your device meant a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT). Embedded devices were traditionally ‘headless,’ meaning they had no display and no generic input device such as a keyboard. Because of this, in the early days developers would commonly develop on desktop machines using a cross toolchain. A cross toolchain is a set of tools designed to build software on a target embedded platform, which was a completely different hardware architecture and OS from the desktop development platform. Nowadays, many embedded platforms are powerful enough that they can run their own toolchains. Such was the case with our demo, more on that below.

Another common aspect of an embedded system is “real time” requirements. A simplified definition would be if a given operation does not complete by a certain time, it’s just as bad as not finishing at all. Real Time Operating Systems, or RTOSes, can provide guarantees about when operations will finish. Real time embedded devices are still quite prevalent in some industries, including military, aviation, industrial manufacturing, and networking. The embedded space has certainly been encroached on by the rise of mobile, but as long as we have mission critical devices there will continue to be a requirement for embedded devices.

Now back to the Embedded Systems Conference. Booth traffic was high, we were averaging about 1 visitor per minute the nearly the whole time I was there. I attribute this partly to curiosity, but mostly to our great giveaways! They did their job, I talked to a number of people who ended up having a genuine interest in what we were showing, and were initially attracted to the booth by our swag. Also we held a drawing for an iPad, which brought a ton of people to register.

Our demo was a temperature sensor attached to a small device called a SheevaPlug, which is a general purpose embedded development device from Marvell. By embedded standards, the SheevaPlug is a very powerful device, and we were able to develop directly on it. The idea behind the demo was that the device represented one of many nodes in a sensor network. Some real world examples of this include weather stations, or monitoring conditions inside laboratories or industrial facilities. Our demo showed the system collecting temperature data, which was then uploaded to Oracle Database. All of this was running on top of Java SE Embedded. The demo was well received. Nearly everyone who listened to me present agreed that the sync functionality would be useful to them, or useful in general if they didn’t need it themselves.

The main purpose of our presence at ESC was to showcase the power, ease of use, and versatility of Java Embedded. When you combine that Berkeley DB and Oracle Database Lite Mobile Server, you get a system that has out of the box capability to move data to and from enterprise storage systems. After a few simple configuration steps, the data stored on the local Berkeley DB or SQLite data store is connected to the enterprise backend. This is a potent combination of features, and one that we feel will be in high demand in the coming years, as M2M and embedded solutions continue to proliferate.

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