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Intel sheds Wind River

Apr 4, 2018 — by Eric Brown — 1523 views

Investment firm TPG has acquired Intel’s Wind River software subsidiary, which develops the Wind River Linux and VxWorks embedded development platforms.

Nine years after Intel announced it was acquiring Wind River Systems for $884 million, the chipmaker quietly sold its software subsidiary to investment firm TPG for an undisclosed sum. Although in recent years, Intel had begun to integrate the Wind River into its Open Source Group, the subsidiary is returning to its status as an independent software company, this time backed by TPG. Current Wind River President, Jim Douglas, and his executive management team will stay on, and Intel says it will continue to collaborate with Wind River once the acquisition is closed later this quarter.

The acquisition came less than a week after Intel contributed key parts of the Wind River Titanium Cloud platform to the Linux Foundation’s Akraino Edge Stack project as open source software. The Akraino Edge Stack automates services from edge to core, providing an open source software stack for low-latency, carrier-grade edge computing networking technology.

Like its industry leading commercial embedded platform, the Yocto Project based Wind River Linux, Wind River Titanium Cloud is based on open source software, but includes proprietary middleware and a hardened Linux kernel. The flagship Wind River VxWorks platform, which powers NASA’s Martian rovers, not to mention a good share of the world’s mission critical infrastructure, is an entirely proprietary solution built around the VxWorks real-time operating system (RTOS).



Wind River Linux 8 architecture
(click image to enlarge)

The release of Wind River continues Intel’s sell-off of peripheral businesses and projects. A year after acquiring Wind River, Intel bought security firm McAfee for $7.7 billion. In 2011, Intel tried to integrate the firm’s software with that of Wind River, but it was never a tight fit. According to an ElectronicDesign story that alerted us to the TPG acquisition, Intel later “sold a majority stake in its cybersecurity business, which grew out of McAfee, in a transaction that valued it at around $4.2 billion.”

Last June, Intel discontinued its Linux-ready, Atom-based Intel Joule and Intel Edison COMs, its Quark-based Galileo Gen 2 SBC, and its Recon Jet sports eyewear. The following month, it shut down its Curie wearables module and its Curie-enabled Arduino 101 SBC.

TPG may be particularly interested in Wind River’s potential in automotive technology. In 2016, Intel’s Wind River acquired automotive software firm Arynga, which made OTA software for car computers. Around the same time, Wind River launched a Helix Chassis connected car platform which combined a Wind River Linux-based “Cockpit,” VxWorks-based “Drive,” IoT device access, and cloud services.

Wind River expanded beyond VxWorks when it launched its first Linux tools in 2003. It followed up with the formal Wind River Linux release in 2005. By 2009, Wind River eclipsed MontaVista Software, which is now owned by Cavium, as the leading commercial embedded Linux distribution, according to VDC Research.


Wind River
Linux logo

Wind River dominated the embedded Linux world in the previous decade, as Wind River Linux continued to lure customers away from Microsoft Embedded (then called Windows CE) and various RTOSes, including some of its own VxWorks customers. However, it began to fade in importance as open source projects such as the Yocto Project and more comprehensive semiconductor vendor BSPs offered developers additional choices. In addition, desktop distributions such as Ubuntu have evolved into more suitable embedded platforms, Android emerged as an embedded platform, and Real-Time Linux — a Wind River specialty — is being integrated fully into the mainline kernel.

Like its rivals — MontaVista and Mentor Embedded Linux, which is now owned by Siemens — Wind River adjusted to the new reality by basing its hardened, carrier grade distribution on open source Yocto Project code. There’s still plenty of proprietary code, however. There was some concern after Intel’s acquisition that customers who used non-Intel platforms would be placed on the back burner. While Wind River Linux was quick to announce optimized support for new Intel Core platforms, it continued to support Arm and other architectures as well.

Although Wind River is no longer central to the Linux conversation, Wind River Linux and its commercial rivals continue to draw customers, primarily in the carrier grade networking and industrial markets. A 2017 EETimes/Embedded survey suggested that commercial Linux platforms had even gained some market share. Survey participants noted advantages of commercial offerings such as better real-time capabilities (45 percent), followed by hardware compatibility, code size/memory usage, tech support, and maintenance, all in the mid 30 percentages. Drawbacks included expense and vendor lock-in.



Wind River Pulsar Linux architecture
(click image to enlarge)

Wind River Linux is part of the Wind River Helix portfolio of products for Internet of Things development. This includes a Helix Cloud platform for IoT development and management, which was announced along with a stripped-down version of Wind River Linux called Pulsar Linux. Wind River VxWorks, meanwhile, spawned a minimalist Viper version, which Intel contributed as open source code to help form the Linux Foundation’s Zephyr RTOS.

“This acquisition will establish Wind River as a leading independent software provider uniquely positioned to advance digital transformation within critical infrastructure segments with our comprehensive edge to cloud portfolio,” stated Jim Douglas, Wind River President. “At the same time, TPG will provide Wind River with the flexibility and financial resources to fuel our many growth opportunities as a standalone software company that enables the deployment of safe, secure, and reliable intelligent systems.”

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One response to “Intel sheds Wind River”

  1. asdf says:

    So I guess Intel’s IoT experiment is pretty much done now? The hardware platforms were dead on arrival, and without them there’s no point in pouring money into the software. I wonder if Zephyr will survive if/when Intel stops supporting its development.

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