Tuesday Mar 15, 2011

The Unofficial Java SE Embedded SDK

Developing applications for embedded platforms gets simpler all the time, thanks in part to the tremendous advances in microprocessor design and software tools.  And in particular, with the availability of Java SE compatible Virtual Machines for the popular embedded platforms, development has never been more straightforward.

The real beauty behind Java SE Embedded development lies in the fact that you can use your favorite IDE (Eclipse, NetBeans, JDeveloper ...) to create, test and debug code in the identical fashion in which you'd develop a standard desktop or server application.  When the time comes to try it out on a Java SE Embedded capable device, it's just a matter of shipping the bytecodes over to the device and letting it run.  There is no need for complicated emulators, toolchains and cross-compilers.  The exact same bytecodes that ran on your PC, run unmodified on the embedded device.

In fact, because all versions of Java SE (embedded or not) share a considerable amount of common code, we have plenty of anecdotal evidence which supports the notion that behavior -- correct or incorrect -- manifests itself identically across platforms.  We refer specifically here to bugs.  Now no one wants bugs, but believe it or not, our customers like the fact that behavior is consistent across platforms whether it's right or not. "Bug for bug compatibility" has actually become a strong selling point!

Having espoused the virtues of transparently developing off device, many still wish to test and debug on-device regularly as part of their development cycle.  If you're the touchy/feely type, there are ample examples of affordable and supported off-the-shelf devices that could fit the bill for an Unofficial Java SE Embedded SDK.  One such platform is the Plug Computer.

The reference platform for the Plug Computer is supplied by Marvell Technology Group. Manufacturers then license the technology from Marvell to create their own specific implementations.  Two such vendors are GlobalScale and Ionics.  These are incredibly capable devices that include Arm processors in the 1.2GHz to 2.0GHz range, and sport 512MB of RAM and flash.  There are a host of external port and interface options including USB, µUSB, SATA, GBE, SD, WiFi, ZigBee, Z-Wave and soon HDMI.  Additionally, several Linux distros are available for these systems too.  The typical cost for a base model is $99, and perhaps the most disruptive aspect of these systems, they consume on average about 5 watts of power.

Alongside developing in the traditional manner, the ability to step through and examine state on these devices via remote debugging comes as a standard feature with the Java SE-E VM.  Furthermore, you can use the JConsole application from your desktop to remotely monitor performance and resource consumption on the device.

So what would a bill of materials look like for The Unofficial Java SE Embedded SDK?  Pretty simple actually:

That's about it.  Of course, for higher level functionality, you can add additional packages.  For example, Apache runs beautifully here.  Could anyone imagine a large number of these devices acting as a parallel web server?

Thursday Dec 16, 2010

Java SE Embedded Refreshed

As embedded processor designs continue their inexorable drive towards ever increasing capability, the natural desire to utilize more robust software platforms, previously reserved for powerful desktop computers and servers, follows suit.  Recognizing this trend, a version of the Java Standard Edition platform, called Java SE Embedded, has been developed to address this growing market.  In addition to bringing all of the benefits of the ubiquitous Java Standard Edition to the most popular embedded processors, static footprint and memory optimizations have been realized.  To get a feel for some of the space savings, check out this article.

Partly due to the turmoil surrounding the Oracle acquisition of Sun, a refresh of the Java SE Embedded binaries took longer than anticipated.  The new versions are now available for download with these supported configurations.  During that time frame, Java SE-E engineers were able take care of some internal housekeeping which should help for better synchronization of future releases of Java SE with Java SE-E.  In the past, Java SE-E engineers would take a snapshot of the Java Standard Edition code and incorporate their modifications to create a new release, forking from the standard edition source,.  Now, the Java SE-E code is part of the overall Java SE project, such that future Java SE enhancements and bug fixes should now be automatically incorporated into the Java SE-E code base.

The refreshed Java SE-E binaries are based on the Java SE 6 Update 21, and represent substantial security, performance and quality enhancements.  Benchmark tests show that, for example, simply replacing the previous versions of the Java SE-E virtual machines with the latest binaries produces on average about 20% performance gain for the same hardware/OS combination.  Having recently introduced a Just-In-Time (or JIT) compiler to the Android Dalvik Virtual Machine, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare performance of Java SE-E to Android on identical hardware.  For a full explanation of the results and methodology, check out Bob Vandette's blog on this topic.  To cut to the chase, for the selected benchmarks, Java SE-E outperforms Android by a factor of two. 

Improving virtual machine performance is a tedious process that takes time.  The bottom line is this:  Java SE Virtual Machine engineers have been at this for a very long time, and have had the benefit of fifteen years of scrutiny from the computer science community.  It will take considerable time and effort for Android to come close to this capability.  In the interim, the Java Virtual Machine performance and quality improvement marches on.

   Next up: Take a look at these pictures.  Based upon Marvell's Plug Computer design, these amazing devices pack a 1+GHz Arm processor with 512MB RAM and consume a minuscule 5 watts of power. They run Java SE-E beautifully.  Combined with an IDE like NetBeans, this makes for an ideal, although unofficial, Java SE Embedded Development Kit.

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Jim Connors

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