Thursday Dec 04, 2008

Why JavaFX is Relevant

This week marks the formal release of JavaFX 1.0.  During the interval between the early marketing blitz and now, we've heard a lot from our friends in the press and the blogosphere, and in many instances what they had to say was not very pretty.  Some think the Rich Internet Application platform battle lines are already drawn between Adobe and Microsoft, and dismiss Sun as having arrived too late to the party.  Others opine that JavaFX's underlying Java platform is so yesterday.  In fact Java is the primary reason why JavaFX will, much to the chagrin of many, receive serious consideration.  Here's why:

  • Java is ubiquitous.  It is the proven, de-facto platform for web-based deployment.  On the desktop, it is estimated that approximately 90% of PCs have Java installed. In fact the major PC OEMs have seen fit to install it for you out of the box.  In the mobile world, Java is the dominant deployment platform.  Billions (that's with a 'b') of devices run Java.
  • The Java development community is arguably the largest on the planet.  Java gained initial widespread acclaim as a productive development environment, and continues to do so.  As JavaFX is an evolution of Java and seamlessly integrates with it, human nature tells us that individuals will naturally want to work with and leverage that which they already know and are familiar with.
  • Alternatives are still no match for the Java Virtual Machine.  It has been extensively studied, vetted, scrutinized, poked, prodded, abused, cloned, and optimized more than any other virtual machine in the history of computing. And just in case you're under the impression that the Java Virtual Machine is limited only to the Java (and now JavaFX script) programming languages, think again.  At last count there were over 200 projects integrating modern dynamic languages to the Java VM.  That list includes the usual suspects like PHP, Ruby, JavaScript, Python, and [insert your favorite language here].
  • The amount of Java Standard Edition online updates is staggering.  We know.  We supply the downloads.  And once a desktop is upgraded, it will be able to take full advantage of the features JavaFX brings to the table, effectively trivializing the barriers to entry.
Many of our most talented folks have been working feverishly to reach this milestone.  That being said, there's still lot's more work to do.  But we're off to a real nice start.  Check out http://javafx.com.  Hmm.  looks like the site is a little sluggish right now.  Maybe we underestimated all the interest?

Wednesday Jul 23, 2008

Fast Booting Solaris

A veteran Java ONE keynote presenter, Perrone Robotics has developed some real interesting technologies which take the concept of using autonomous (i.e. unmanned) vehicles to a whole new level.  One of their key ingredients is the MAX software platform which utilizes common commercially available components to enable Perrone to very quickly and cost-effectively retrofit nearly any vehicle in short order.


The MAX robotics platform runs on a (roughly 4" x 6") low-power PC board atop Solaris and Sun's Java Real-Time System (Java RTS).  This combination gives Perrone the ability to leverage the huge Java development community, and assures that their critical software components behave in a predictable and deterministic fashion.

During the Java ONE 2007 conference, I was speaking with Paul Perrone about the notion of creating a minimized version of Solaris over which his platform might run.  The helicopter pictured above, boots from a relatively small (4-8Gb)  IDE flash drive, where standard Solaris takes up a substantial chunk.  It leaves them precious little space to collect valuable information like telemetry or terrain data.  Paul asked to revist this idea for a future project.  That's where we left off.

Not that we've ignored them since, but it wasn't until a year later that small Solaris reared its head again.  In addition to saving space, their main interest in this environment was in seeing how much faster Solaris might boot up.  The ability to be fully functional from power-up in as short a time as possible is of critical importance.

So before investigating what advantages there might be, let's provide some background information:

Hardware

Two separate systems were used, and for argument's sake, represent two ends of the x86 compute spectrum. 


Embedded Profile
Modern Profile 
System iGologic i84810
Panasonic Toughbook CF-30 (Rev. F)
CPU 1GHz Celeron M
Core 2 Duo L7500 1.60GHz
RAM 512MB 1GB
Disk 4GB Flash IDE Drive
Solid State SATA Drive

Operating Systems

Minimal configurations were created for Solaris 10 08/07 (Update 4) and OpenSolaris Nevada build 93.  These configurations boot entirely into RAM and consume less than 100MB ramdisk space.  With a little more effort they can be may significantly smaller.  The original blog post describing the environment is here.   You can download the framework for these hardware/OS combinations here, and can get a feel for the build environment by taking a look at this README.

Definitions

Within the context of this discussion, here are the key terms along with their meanings.

Total Boot Time: This is the time it takes from power-up till a user is prompted to log in.  Typically for a full Solaris installation, the windowing system must first start up and present the user with a login screen.  In a minimal Solaris environment, there is no windowing system.  Instead, the total boot time is defined as the time it takes from power-up till a user is prompted with the console login: prompt.

POST Time: POST or Power On Self Test is the time taken by the system at pre-boot to handle things like diagnostics,  BIOS and device initialization.  For this discussion, we'll define POST time as the time it takes from power-up until the user is presented with a GRUB boot menu.  We call out this segment of the total time because in many cases we are at the mercy of the PC/BIOS manufacturer and can't overly influence how quickly or slowly this proceeds.

Solaris Boot Time: The time it takes from being presented with a GRUB boot menu till a Solaris user is prompted to log in.  Again, depending upon whether a windowing system is configured or not, this may represent the time it takes to be prompted with a login screen or console login: prompt respectively.  This represents the segment of time that we can influence.

We can conclude from these definitions that:

   Total Boot Time = POST Time + Solaris Boot Time

Results

Embedded Profile: iGoLogic i84810 system 

OS
Post Time
Solaris Boot Time
Total Boot Time
 Solaris 10 08/07
13 sec
26 sec
39 sec
 OpenSolaris Nevada Build 93
13 sec
18 sec
31 sec 

Modern Profile: Panasonic Toughbook CF-30

OS POST Time
Solaris Boot Time
 Total Boot Time
 Solaris 10 08/07
 6 sec
 18 sec
 24 sec
 OpenSolaris Nevada Build 93
 6 sec
 9 sec
 15 sec

Conclusions/Notes

1. These times were taken by hand with the stopwatch feature on my Timex.  If anything, the times might be slightly shorter than actually recorded as there is a human delay in reacting to seeing the necessary prompts.  I ran the tests several times, and the same numbers consistently appear.

2. The version of the OS appears to matter a lot, as OpenSolaris nvx_93 boots up nearly twice as fast as Solaris 10 U4 on the same hardware.

3. The type of I/O device subsystem seems to be a big factor too.  For example, by switching out the IDE Flash Drive with a 5400 RPM IDE hard disk, i84810 total boot time decreased by about 6 seconds for both Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris. 

4. The minimal Solaris environment is currently only available in 32-bit mode.

5. With relative ease, Solaris can be configured to boot in less that 10 seconds on modern x86 hardware.  My unofficial record stands at 9 seconds (or slightly less).   No doubt it could boot faster on more robust hardware (eliminating POST time).  Any takers?

Tuesday Jun 17, 2008

Real-Time Java in a Zone

As is often the case, Sun's technologies and offerings are being applied in ways which we hadn't necessarily anticipated.  Yet another example has reared its head in the govenrment/military space where customers have expressed interest in using Sun's Java Real-Time System with Solaris Trusted Extensions.  As it stands right now, Java RTS will neither operate nor install within the confines of such an environment.  Let's investigate why this is so, and see what current opportunities there are for working around this shortcoming.

So what is it that causes Trusted Extensions and Java RTS not to play together nicely?   It happens to revolve around Trusted Extension's extensive usage of Solaris zones to limit access between differing security levels.  Solaris packages must be specifically configured to accommodate zones, which has yet to formally take place with Java RTS.  As zones are a core component of Solaris, we can, for the sake of simplicity, just use standard Solaris to demonstrate how we can work around this temporary limitation.  These modifications should apply to Trusted Extensions just as well.   To get Java RTS to work within a zone, follow these steps:

1. Install the Java RTS cyclic driver (only) in the global zone.

global# pkgadd -d . SUNWrtjc

Processing package instance <SUNWrtjc> from </cyclic/src/packages_i386>
## Installing package <SUNWrtjc> in global zone

Java Real-Time System cyclic driver(i386) 2.1.0,REV=2008.06.13.16.10
Copyright 2008 Sun Microsystems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Use is subject to license terms.
Using </> as the package base directory.
## Processing package information.
## Processing system information.
   5 package pathnames are already properly installed.
## Verifying package dependencies.
## Verifying disk space requirements.
## Checking for conflicts with packages already installed.
## Checking for setuid/setgid programs.

This package contains scripts which will be executed with super-user
permission during the process of installing this package.

Do you want to continue with the installation of <SUNWrtjc> [y,n,?] y

Installing Java Real-Time System cyclic driver as <SUNWrtjc>


2. Create a zone called 'rtjzone':
global# mkdir -p /zone
bash-3.00# zonecfg -z rtjzone
rtjzone: No such zone configured
Use 'create' to begin configuring a new zone.
zonecfg:rtjzone> create
zonecfg:rtjzone> set zonepath=/zone/rtjzone
zonecfg:rtjzone> verify
zonecfg:rtjzone> commit
zonecfg:rtjzone> exit
global# zoneadm list -vc
  ID NAME             STATUS     PATH                           BRAND    IP
   0 global           running    /                              native   shared
   - rtjzone          configured /zone/rtjzone                  native   shared
global# zoneadm -z rtjzone install
Preparing to install zone <rtjzone>.
Creating list of files to copy from the global zone.
Copying <6984> files to the zone.
Initializing zone product registry.
Determining zone package initialization order.
Preparing to initialize <1074> packages on the zone.
Initialized <1074> packages on zone.
Zone <rtjzone> is initialized.
Installation of <1> packages was skipped.
The file </zone/rtjzone/root/var/sadm/system/logs/install_log> contains a log of the zone installation.


3.  Modify the zone to allow access to the cyclic device, and to allow additional privileges

global# zonecfg -z rtjzone
zonecfg:rtjzone> set limitpriv=default,proc_priocntl,proc_lock_memory,proc_clock_highres
zonecfg:rtjzone> add device
zonecfg:rtjzone:device> set match=/dev/cyclic
zonecfg:rtjzone:device> end
zonecfg:rtjzone> verify
zonecfg:rtjzone> commit
zonecfg:rtjzone> exit

global# zoneadm -z rtjzone reboot
Note:  One privilege that is useful with Java RTS is sys_res_config.  This is typically used to assign a real-time process to a processor set.  Unfortunately zones cannot currently be given this privilege.  You can however, from the global zone, assign a processor set to a zone, which might be a reasonable workaround.

4.  Get a copy of the SUNWrtjv package and modify it so that it will install in a zone.  The postinstall script and postremove script must replaced with those provided by these hyperlinks just mentioned.

rtjzone# cd /scratch
rtjzone# ls
SUNWrtjv	postinstall	postremove
rtjzone# cp postinstall SUNWrtjv/install/
rtjzone# cp postremove SUNWrtjv/install/

5. Modify the SUNWrtjv pkgmap file with the appropriate sizes, checksums and last access dates.  The source code for a sample C program, called pkgmap_info, which prints out the necessary information, can be found here.

rtjzone# cd SUNWrtjv
rtjzone# grep post pkgmap 1 i postinstall 5402 42894 1194344457 1 i postremove 2966 34854 1194344457 rtjzone# cp pkgmap_info.c /tmp rtjzone# cc -o /tmp/pkgmap_info /tmp/pkgmap_info.c rtjzone# cd /scratch/SUNWrtjv/install/ rtjzone# /tmp/pkgmap_info postinstall postinstall 5820 9488 1213727841 rtjzone# /tmp/pkgmap_info postremove postremove 3092 45039 1213727538
Replace the postinstall and postremove entries in the pkgmap file with those produced by the pkgmap_info program.  You cannot simply use the example data above because the last access times will not match.  Doing so will cause the install to fail.


6. Install the Java RTS SUNWrtjv package inside the zone.

rtjzone# cd /scratch
rtjzone# pkgadd -d . SUNWrtjv

Processing package instance <SUNWrtjv> from </scratch>

Java Real-Time System runtime environment(i386) 1.5.0_13_Java-RTS-2.0_01-b08_RTSJ-1.0.2,REV=2007.11.06.12.47
Copyright 2005 Sun Microsystems, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Use is subject to license terms.

Where should this package be installed? (/opt): /opt

To achieve predictable temporal behavior, the Java Real-Time System
must be granted access to a number of privileged Solaris resources.
By default, access to these privileged resources is only granted to
the superuser (root). They can also be granted to additional users
by creating a rights profile, that is, a collection of authorizations,
that can later be assigned to an administrative role or directly
to a user.

As part of this package installation, a local 'Java Real-Time System User'
rights profile can be created on this machine.
This rights profile should NOT be created if such an action conflicts
with your computer security management policies. If unsure, contact
your system administrator or your computer security manager.
Also refer to the product's release notes for further details regarding
the privileges required by the Java Real-Time System.

Should a local 'Java Real-Time System User' rights profile be created? [y,n] (no): y
Using </opt> as the package base directory.
## Processing package information.
## Processing system information.
## Verifying package dependencies.
## Verifying disk space requirements.
## Checking for conflicts with packages already installed.
## Checking for setuid/setgid programs.

This package contains scripts which will be executed with super-user
permission during the process of installing this package.

Do you want to continue with the installation of <SUNWrtjv> [y,n,?] y

...

## Executing postinstall script.
Creating the 'Java Real-Time System User' rights profile.

Refer to the 'System Administration Guide: Security Services'
documentation for further information regarding the way to assign the
'Java Real-Time System User' rights profile to users, groups, or
administrative roles using the Solaris Management Console, smc(1M) or
the usermod(1M), groupmod(1M) and rolemod(1M) commands.


Installation of <SUNWrtjv> was successful.


6.  Try running a real-time Java application in the zone.

rtjzone# /opt/SUNWrtjv/bin/java -version
java version "1.5.0_13"
Java(TM) 2 Runtime Environment, Standard Edition (build 1.5.0_13_Java-RTS-2.0_01-b08_RTSJ-1.0.2)
Java Real-Time System HotSpot(TM) Client VM (build 1.5.0_13-b08, mixed mode)


We hope to more formally support Solaris zones usage with Java RTS in the future.  In the interim this workaround can help you get started.  Many thanks to Jim Clarke, who did the lion's share of the legwork to find this solution.

Wednesday Mar 26, 2008

Reduced Footprint Java SE: Bringing Java Standard Edition Down to Size

A previous blog post demonstrated how you can, with minimal effort, lessen the disk footprint of a typical Java SE 5.0 runtime environment by about a third without violating the Java Standard Edition Licensing agreement. That post focused primarily on removing optional files and compressing class library jar files.  It turns out that with a little more engineering,  there is significant opportunity for further space optimization.

These additional savings involve more intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Java SE.  Sun performs this engineering work and provides a series of reduced footprint versions of Java SE, in binary form, for some of the most common embedded platforms.  They include some of these enhancements:1

  • Headless configuration - The inclusion of graphics subsystems like AWT and Swing comprise a large chunk of the Java SE footprint.  If your device has no graphics capability (i.e. is headless) why would you need to include this functionality?  Headless configurations:
  1. Do not support keyboard or mouse input
  2. Cannot create windows or display graphics
  3. Throw a HeadlessException when a graphics API is called
  4. Still support a functional Java 2D API for printing and off-screen rendering
  5. Are still 100% Java SE compatible
  • Eliminate client or server compiler - Sun's Java SE implementations include two HotSpot compilers, tuned and designed for specific environments.  The client compiler focuses on things like fast user interactivity and quick startup, while the server compiler's priority is on optimizing large, long-lived server applications.  The Java SE VM can only use one of these compilers at a time, so removing the unused one can save considerable space.
  • Minimizes memory consumption - Standard Java SE allocates RAM to house things like the JIT code cache and the object heap.  By default, each one of these areas (and others) can be assigned 64 MB.  In an embedded platform where the total amount of RAM might only be 64MB, Java SE will simply not have enough memory to run.  Java SE Embedded on the other hand, will automatically adapt memory usage to the amount of available RAM.  Consequently, 64MB is a reasonable amount of RAM for a large set of embedded Java applications.
  • Space vs. speed tradeoffs - (1) Java SE implements a thread lookup table, which in layman's terms, helps save a few instructions when switching between Java threads.  By eliminating this table, a couple of MBs of RAM can be spared from your application's working set. (2) Java SE also sets aside an area (mmap'ed) for loading jar files into random access memory, which as was explained to me, may help performance, but may also result in duplicate copies of jar files in memory.  Removal of this area further reduces the Resident Set Size.

An Example

Following through with the exmaple in the last post., let's start with an unmodified version of Java SE 5.0 Update 13 for Linux/x86.  By default, the static footprint is approximately 88MB.

   jimc@jalopy:/tmp> du -sk ./jre1.5.0_13/
88185   ./jre1.5.0_13/

After following the directions in the previous post, we can pare it down to roughly 60MB.
   jimc@jalopy:/tmp> du -sk /tmp/jre1.5.0_13/
59358 /tmp/jre1.5.0_13/

Downloading Sun's reduced footprint version of Java SE for x86/Linux yields:

   jimc@jalopy:/tmp> du -sk /tmp/jre1.5.0_10/
31003 /tmp/jre1.5.0_10/

This version of the JRE is about one-third it's original size, and furthermore has been modified to use significantly less memory than the standard Java SE offerings.  Note: we are comparing slightly different updates of Java SE 1.5 (update 13 vs. update 10).  They are indeed not identical but their differences should be considered, for the sake of argument, negligible. 

[1] Many thanks to Bob Vandette, who though presentation and conversation, supplied this information.  One of many sources comes from Bob's Java ONE 2007 session called, Deploying Java Platform Standard Edition (Java SE Platform) in Today's Embedded Devices (TS-2602)


Thursday Feb 14, 2008

Reducing Your Java SE Runtime Environment Footprint (Legally)

Because the resource requirements for Java Standard Edition are by no means insignificant, developers interested in utilizing Java on smaller platforms have traditionally opted for one of the Java Micro Edition configurations.   It should therefore come as no surprise that some of the Standard Edition functionality has to be sacrificed in these constrained Java ME environments.  However, as the trend towards more capable devices continues, it becomes reasonable to once again consider the advantages of utilizing Java SE.  Unfortunately, with a static footprint that could easily exceed 100MB, Java SE may still be too large to swallow for a lot of applications.

It is duly noted that the criticism leveled at Sun for exacting too much control over the Java platform has been widespread.  Like it or not though, one benefit of Sun's initial stewardship has been that Java SE has remained a standard platform, and threats to splinter it have thus far been reasonably thwarted.  Accordingly, in order to avoid incompatibilities, there are restrictions spelled out in the Java SE Licensing Agreement which prohibit modification of the Java SE binary distribution.

That  being said, there are a list of optional files, specified by the Java Runtime Environment's README file which can be removed, without ramification, to lessen the footprint.  They include:

  • Deployment tools (e.g. Java Web Start, Java plugin)
  • IDL and RMI tools (e.g. rmid, tnameserv)
  • Security tools (e.g. policytool, keytool)
  • orbd
  • Localization (charsets.jar)

In addition, further space optimization can be achieved by compressing the class library files contained in the rt.jar file.  By default, Java SE ships this jar file uncompressed.  The tradeoff here is space vs. performance, i.e. the classloader must expend cycles to uncompress the Java classes as they are being loaded.

An Example

So let's download a sample JRE from java.sun.com and see how it's footprint can be minimized.   For this example, we'll use Java SE 1.5.0 Update 13 for Linux x86.

After installation, the JRE is approximately 88MB

   jimc@jalopy:/tmp> du -sk ./jre1.5.0_13/
88185   ./jre1.5.0_13/

Here's what it looks like after removal of the optional files

   jimc@jalopy:/tmp> cd jre1.5.0_13/

jimc@jalopy:/tmp/jre1.5.0_13> /bin/rm -rf lib/charsets.jar lib/ext/sunjce_provider.jar \\
lib/ext/localedata.jar lib/ext/ldapsec.jar lib/ext/dnsns.jar bin/rmid \\
bin/rmiregistry bin/tnameserv bin/keytool bin/kinit bin/klist bin/ktab \\
bin/policytool bin/orbd bin/servertool bin/javaws, lib/javaws/ and lib/javaws.jar

jimc@jalopy:/tmp/jre1.5.0_13> cd ..
jimc@jalopy:/tmp> du -sk ./jre1.5.0_13/
77227 ./jre1.5.0_13/

And after rt.jar has been compressed

   jimc@jalopy:/tmp> mkdir rtjar
jimc@jalopy:/tmp> cd rtjar/

jimc@jalopy:/tmp/rtjar> jar -xf /tmp/jre1.5.0_13/lib/rt.jar
jimc@jalopy:/tmp/rtjar> zip -q -r /tmp/rt .
jimc@jalopy:/tmp/rtjar> mv /tmp/rt.zip /tmp/jre1.5.0_13/lib/rt.jar

jimc@jalopy:/tmp/rtjar> du -sk /tmp/jre1.5.0_13/
59358 /tmp/jre1.5.0_13/

Conclusion

In many cases, you can lop off about a third of the Java Runtime Environment footprint with no ill effects.  In a future post, we'll discuss how Sun has further reduced Java SE significantly, not only from the point of view of static footprint, but also from a RAM usage perspective too.  For a preview you can check out Sun's Java SE Embedded technology.

Thursday Jan 31, 2008

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Java RTS 2.1 EA (Early Access) marks the arrival of a commitment made some time back, namely that Sun would provide a version of the Java Real-Time System for Linux.  Perhaps to some, it was long time in the making, but in fact there are at least 2 good reasons why a Linux version wasn't available till now:

  1. Until recently, there was no standard Linux release/kernel which had true real-time support.  Typically the versions available were non-standard and did not constitute any considerable volume.  Mainstream Linux distributions are only now incorporating the necessary real-time underpinnings.
  2. Porting the Java Real-Time System VM to additional platforms is non-trivial.

Support and testing for Java RTS 2.1 EA at this time is limited to the currently shipping SUSE Linux Enterprise Real Time10 platform and the upcoming Red Hat Enterprise MRG 1.0 release.  It is however possible that other versions of Linux could run Java RTS 2.1 EA as it utilizes the real-time POSIX programming interface.  At minimum they would require a 2.6.21 kernel or greater and a glibc of 2.5 or greater.  In addition, the latest RT patch would also be needed.

This announcement pertains only to Linux, but of course a 2.1 EA version for both Solaris x86/x64 and Sparc will be shortly forthcoming. In the interim, a version of Java RTS 2.0 update 1 is readily available.  Documentation for both Java RTS 2.0 and 2.1 EA can be found here.

Regardless of platform, an evaluation version of the software is available for download at the Java RTS download page.

 

Wednesday Dec 19, 2007

Java RTS 2.0 Update 1 Released

After blogging about the relationship between high resolution timers and Java RTS, a comment was posted by a reader stating that they couldn't use Java RTS 2.0 with the latest Solaris 10 update.  Unfortunately that reader was correct.

At the time of the post, Sun had released Solaris 10 Update 4, while Java RTS 2.0 would only support Solaris 10 update 3.  To further exacerbate the situation, once Sun releases a new version of Solaris, they do their best to encourage users to use the latest version by making it difficult (if not impossible) for them to locate previous update versions.

There is a dependency between the aforementioned high resolution timer interface and Solaris which is update specific.  We're working to rectify this situation, but as the process behind Solaris is deliberately bureaucratic, this might take a while.  In the interim we'll need to keep in better lock step with Solaris releases.

On November 27, Java RTS 2.0 update 1 was released: 

  • It supports the latest Solaris 10 update (called 08/07 or update 4)
  • Support for Java SE has been updated to Java SE 5 update 13
  • A new Java RTS DTrace Provider is available
  • Other enhancements are listed here

 

Monday Oct 15, 2007

General Purpose Always Wins ... Why Not for the Real-Time Market Too?

The brief but brilliant era of computing has seen companies come and go, many relegated to the ash heap of history because they failed to heed this simple rule:  
 
  In the long run general purpose solutions will always win out over specialized proprietary ones. 
 
As a long time employee of Sun Microsystems, I've witnessed firsthand the effects, both positive and negative, that this law has had on my company.  Sun can attribute it's initial meteoric rise to the fact that it offered a viable alternative to the popular minicomputer platform of the day.  The first Sun workstations were built from commercial off-the-shelf components, and although nearly equal in performance to the minicomputer, they were so much more affordable that they became good enough.  And of course over time, as Moore's law might dictate, those initial deficiencies quickly dissipated, and in fact surpassed traditional minicomputer capabilities.
 
Somewhere along the line Sun lost sight of this ideal and began incorporating more proprietary technology into their products.  At first the strategy appeared to be successful as Sun was well positioned to reap huge benefits during the Internet bubble.  Meanwhile, low-cost general purpose servers were continuously improving.  When the bubble burst they in turn became good enough alternatives to the powerful but costly Sun servers.  The resulting decline of Sun was rapid, and it's taken the better part of a decade for us to recover.   This story has been told -- and will continue to be again and again -- for those refusing to learn this lesson.  A professor of mine once told me, "If there's anything we've learned from history, it's that we haven't learned anything from history".

When markets mature, even those where technology is paramount, economic considerations dominate. General purpose systems scale on every dimension (unit, management, training and integration costs) whereas proprietary systems do not.  A switch to more standard components should in no way be construed as stifling innovation.  Rather, general purpose systems help create new innovation by building from common elements economically appealing in their own right, and presumably even more economically beneficial once combined.1

[1] The above paragraph was taken in bits and pieces from an email exchange with Dave Hofert, Java Embedded and Real-Time Marketing Manager.  His points were so compelling I couldn't help myself.

Real-time industrial controllers could be the next market ripe for disruption.  Admittedly this is an entrenched and conservative lot.  But the economics of general purpose computing cannot be denied.  As organizations strive to further eliminate cost out of their system, revisiting usage and deployment of industrial controllers, typically via custom proprietary PLCs, is falling under review.  Consequently, at the behest of one of the world's largest industrial corporations, Sun has partnered with iGoLogic, a systems integrator, and Axiomtek, an industrial PC board manufacturer, to create the real-time controller platform pictured below.
 
Among others, here are some of the compelling benefits of this platform: 

  • It's based on standard x86 hardware.  The motherboards aren't much larger than a postcard, are energy efficient, and yet have PC class processing power.  The number of competing manufacturers in this space eliminates vendor lock-in and insures price sensitivity and further rapid innovation.
  • Real-time applications are developed using Sun's Java Real-Time System, enabling you to leverage the largest development community on the planet.  Obscure development languages and highly specialized environments are longer needed.
  • Industrial Networking Protocols (e.g PROFIBUS, EtherCAT) are easily migrated to this platform, partly because of the wealth of development tools available.
  • The system utilizes an IDE flash drive from Apacer.  In addition to eliminating the moving parts associated with a traditional disk drive, it consumes less power and makes the system more resistant to shock and vibration.  Overcoming the longevity limitations of flash memory, Apacer has done some interesting work on wear leveling algorithms effectively extending the lifetime of the flash device well past the expected lifetime of the industrial controller.

 
Let this be our first salvo fired over the proprietary industrial encampment.  We believe the opportunity is immense, but also understand that to achieve any measure of success, partnering with organizations who are truly experts in this arena is critical.  If you think you can add further value, we'd love to talk.

Monday Jun 11, 2007

Audio Transcript and Slides Available for "Real-Time Java Meets Wall Street"

Better late than never ...

As Promised, you can find the audio transcript for the Java ONE 2007 technical session TS-1205: The Sun  Java Real-Time System Meets Wall Street at the aforementioned link.  The slide deck should also be available there, or can be downloaded here.
 

Friday Mar 30, 2007

Real-time Java Meets Wall Street

Jim Clarke, Eric Bruno and I have been selected to present this year at Java ONE.  The title of our session is called "TS-1205 The Sun Java Real-Time System Meets Wall Street".  We're scheduled to present on Wednsday, May 9 at 10:55AM - 11:55AM Pacific in the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.  If you plan on attending, please stop by and see us.  For those that can't make the event, we'll be sure to post the slides once we're permitted.

To get an idea of what we'll discuss, take a look at the abstract below; 

 ABSTRACT

Today's financial institutions use program trading systems to automatically execute split-second trades based on sophisticated algorithms that assess current market conditions. Trade decisions and execution must occur in a timely fashion to capitalize on the market. Missing a trade opportunity, even by a few seconds, can lead to significant losses.

With improvements in Java technology performance, firms are starting to use Java technology to implement these algorithms and thereby realizing productivity gains over more-traditional C/C++ development. However, in these time-critical systems, there is still no guarantee that at any instant, the process will not be interrupted by the Java platform garbage collector. Although trade execution occurs most of the time within an acceptable response time, the trade execution is delayed every once in a while, due to garbage collection or some other system event.

Sun's implementation of the Real-Time Specification for Java (JSR 001), the Sun Java Real-Time System, enables real-time processing through techniques that protect important threads from garbage collection and other system interrupts. This means that trading systems can confidently monitor the market and take action consistently within a calculated window of opportunity.

To demonstrate the impact of these techniques, Sun's OEM Software Systems Engineering technical team has written a demonstration of a trading system that uses real trade data. The demonstration compares a regular Java virtual machine against the Sun Java Real-Time System. For each run, a graph shows the difference in the actual trade price and the price when the trade should have executed. Running this trading system with the Sun Java Real-Time System shows that no money is lost due to garbage collection latencies. The results will be contrasted with the same application run with the standard (non-real-time) Java virtual machine.

This presentation demonstrates a working system and proves real-time Java technology's ability to satisfy hard real-time trading requirements.

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Jim Connors

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