Multicore Q&A with LDRA




Not just for plants, cross-pollination applies to know-how, too, and there may be no better example than what’s taking place among the mil-aero, medical, industrial and other markets as they seek to take on the complexities of security and safety for multicore systems.

Editor’s note: Our thanks to Jim McElroy, LDRA’s vice president of marketing, who recently offered his insights on a number of questions.


EECatalog: What is your advice to safety-critical systems manufacturers with regard to achieving cost effectiveness and with regard to additional objectives beyond cost effectiveness?

Jim_McAlroy_115Jim McElroy, LDRA: Leverage automation technology. It can come into play during the development process as well as during the verification process. During the application cycle, software and systems developers can leverage automation to produce code or software that is more maintainable, clear, testable and even efficient. Automation can give them immediate feedback during the development process about the overall quality of their code.

During the verification phase, automation makes it possible to analyze the code, for example, and automatically generate test cases, execute those test cases and then produce the results back to the developer or verification person.

While automation is key, focus on the overall process is also important, particularly in the certification environments, whether it’s in aerospace and defense, medical, or industrial. It’s crucial to adhere to a rigid and formal software development process.

Tooling and processing enforcement can significantly help how some organizations think and work through their development workflow. Less mature organizations may think that what they are doing now is enough, but when they have to go through the qualification or certification process, they quickly understand that their methodology may not address the particular needs of the regulatory authorities.

For example, with respect to multicore systems, these systems are inherently complex, and the applications that run on them are increasingly complex. It’s helpful to understand the behavioral intricacies of multicore systems and the peripheral technologies around multicore systems.

One approach to the verification of multicore systems is to optimize the technology used to collect and aggregate the one-time behavior and dynamics in a multicore system off of those cores. At LDRA we collect that information for analysis, without affecting the behavior of the underlying applications themselves.

It is interesting to note that in the industries where we work, in these safety-critical environments, often the hardware is not ready, even though the software development team is off and running with the requirements. They have to test these systems anyway, so how do they do that? They use simulation; they use debuggers on their own host development platform, and we work there as well. We utilize our technology with our partner technologies, providing simulators to run your application as if it was running on the target processor, on the host platform.


EECatalog: What concerns are you hearing from customers?

McElroy, LDRA: Security is a concern. We can help them develop more secure software earlier in the development life cycle, identifying potential vulnerabilities, not just in secure code, but on the safety aspects. Multicore systems bring a whole host of things to the table in terms of the overall application space that can be addressed.


EECatalog: Could you cite an example of how LDRA has been involved with the maturing of a standard?

McElroy, LDRA: We have been involved with the definition of DO-178 for many, many years. The principal of our company has been involved with that standard. With our experience working in the aerospace market, we have been able to contribute. At a recent FAA conference our credentialed Designated Engineering Representatives (DERs) got together with the FAA and talked about some upcoming challenges that they have. Those challenges include that of integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national air space.

Security [is also] a challenge for aviation—this is true whether it’s an unmanned system, a manned system, or a ground-based station. Not only are unmanned systems, manned systems and ground-based system all connected, the connection extends as well to the IoT and device connectivity.


EECatalog: Do you find willingness on the part of customers to apply the knowledge LDRA has gained through its work with another sector, or do they tend to stay in their own silos?

McElroy, LDRA: I would say it is a little bit of both. I have spoken at a number of conferences where the audience has been very mixed (representing a number of different markets), so there is definitely a curiosity factor. For example, the medical market is curious about what the aerospace market is doing. However, the medical market is very cost conscious, with different market dynamics than aerospace and defense.

As systems have become more complex, security becomes a more difficult task, although there are also simple things that can be done, such as eliminating vulnerabilities in [their company’s] code using automation technology.

But companies are also dealing with the more complex tasks of building their software application on top of a more secure infrastructure such as a secure OS technology. There can be a “can’t afford to do that” attitude.

At the same time, in the wake of events such as problems with blood infusion pumps and defibrillators, and because medical devices can be affected from both a safety and security standpoint, there is a lot more focus on software quality in the medical device market. And that can lead to looking closely at aerospace.


EECatalog: Are firms that had been less interested in the past in adopting aerospace standards (seeing them as above and beyond what they needed) changing their attitude?

McElroy, LDRA: It depends on what market; it depends on what the concerns are. A lot of these standards that have evolved in medical and automotive and such are derivative of IEC61508, and a lot of that standard has been derived from the DO-178 world, so there is definitely some overlap. But, there is some specialization that has taken place in those markets where they may not want to apply all the different technologies that the aerospace market addresses. For example, for in-flight software in the aerospace market, they have to perform object-code verification—this is a very unique technology that is not yet required in the medical market under IEC62304.


EECatalog: A recent news release from LDRA noted, “…with many systems now being connected, companies must enforce high-quality code, fully test and verify systems, and proactively prevent application vulnerabilities.” Does proactive prevention ever mean severing connections?

McElroy, LDRA: Proactive prevention in this context means developing high-quality software from the get go, where we can minimize the safety and security vulnerabilities, and we talked a little bit about how our static analysis capability can help our customers to do that from the very earliest stages of software development. Now, that won’t make a system secure in itself. However, it is a significant step forward in producing more resilient systems when we talk about security. Resilient systems may be systems that come under attack—how does your system actually respond to that attack? And developing more resilient systems is ultimately one of the key benchmarks for security.

Depending on the level of acceptable risk and the cost to secure that system, severing all the connections could be the solution, but it is rarely feasible in reality. Today it’s a systems of systems world because our systems are so complex. Fortunately, today we have architectures or hardware platforms to build upon that enable us to build systems that are more secure. In some cases, if you talk to an operating system vendor, they may say, “ultimately secure.” Some operating systems enable these various levels of security and connectivity at varying costs. We happen to be partners with a number of these companies and we can help customers build more secure systems early in the development cycle, throughout the development and verification phases, and ultimately at the deployment phase with our partner technologies on the OS side. So severing connections, depending on the cost, depending on the type of system, may be the answer, but it really depends on the system.


EECatalog: As the number of cores increases, will both partnerships and the need to manage those partnerships become ever more important?

McElroy, LDRA: Even the hardware vendors that are selling their chips into the market recognize that in today’s world, we have to be able to respond rapidly to the new requirements of these multicore systems. The way to do that in the most expeditious and potentially cost-effective manner is through software.

With software becoming increasingly important, at LDRA our relationships not only extend to the OS vendors but also to the manufacturers of the chips and processors and microcontrollers. That is necessary because they also recognize that the most cost effective approach for customizing and future-proofing these systems is through software. Helping their customers and our mutual customers develop these complex systems in a more efficient, more reliable, more maintainable way—that is what we need to do together.


EECatalog: Are there attitude hurdles there to overcome or which have been successfully overcome?

McElroy, LDRA: Yes and yes. There are definitely some attitudes, such as, “if I have to go to all these vendors, it will cost me a lot more money,” but that is not necessarily reality. We can make a cost-effective solution where we provide integration between our product and our partners’ products and deliver that as a solution to our customers very efficiently. For example, we recently announced a partnership with Microchip, and Microchip is offering some of our software from their store.


anne_fisherAnne Fisher is managing editor of EECatalog.com. Her experience includes covering a wide range of embedded solutions in the PICMG ecosystem as well as other technologies. Anne enjoys bringing embedded designers and developers solutions to technology challenges as described by their peers as well as insight and analysis from industry leaders. She can be reached at afisher@extensionmedia.com

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