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Open source ACRN hypervisor debuts on an industrial edge platform

Dec 9, 2020 — by Eric Brown 1,292 views

TTTech’s Linux-based “Nerve Blue’” industrial edge computing platform is the first commercial implementation of the open source ACRN hypervisor. Nerve Blue includes a node stack that runs on Intel based systems plus a cloud management stack.

TTTech Industrial has launched the first commercial product built around ACRN, the Linux Foundation’s lightweight hypervisor for safety critical embedded applications. The Nerve Blue platform uses ACRN 2.0 “to run PLC software for controlling high-speed machine functions alongside other less time-sensitive software applications on the same hardware platform,” says the Linux Foundation.

The Linux-based Nerve Blue is available now on systems will Intel Apollo Lake and 8th Gen Whiskey Lake processors. In early 2021, support will be added for Elkhart Lake (Atom x6000E).

Nerve Blue architecture
(click image to enlarge)


Prior to integrating ACRN, Nerve Blue was available with the Xen 4.11 hypervisor to create “a highly virtualized environment for running machine software on standard industrial PCs,” stated Thomas Berndorfer, Member of the Executive Board, TTTech Industrial. “Now with the integration of ACRN 2.0 we have been able to extend our platform to safely and securely host software for controlling the most critical elements within a machine.”

ACRN provides VM resource partitioning required for functional safety. The hypervisor enables deployment of typically RTOS-driven safety critical VMs for applications such as robotics and PLCs along with less critical tasks typically powered by Linux such as HMIs and machine learning.

ACRN v2.0 adds a more flexible hybrid-mode architecture that supports both partition mode and sharing mode simultaneously. This would enable mixed scenarios where a sealed-off, safety critical VM is running independently of other less critical VMs that share data.

ACRN v2.0 hybrid-mode architecture
(click image to enlarge)

Nerve Blue taps ACRN to create virtual environments that support cycle times down to 500μs for low-latency applications. When running Nerve Blue on an Intel-based embedded computer controlling an injection molding machine, for example, users can simultaneously run the injection pressure control process alongside Human-Machine Interface (HMI), gateway, data analytics, and predictive maintenance functions. This consolidation provides hardware savings and enables more efficient machine operation, says the Linux Foundation.

Nerve Blue comprises a Nerve Node stack running on edge devices and a Nerve Management System, which can run on-premises or in the cloud. The Nerve Node software integrates a User Space that makes use of the ACRN hypervisor and provides Docker container support and a CODESYS soft PLC. Although based on Linux, it supports virtualized environments running Linux or Windows

Nerve Node contains all services for communication with the Management System, including remote access, logging, monitoring, and patching. The Node software enables the acquisition, storage, and analysis of machine data with real-time “gatewaying” of data from existing PLC and IO infrastructure. Nerve Node also enables sharing data between time-series databases and applications, as well as local and web-based data visualization.

The Nerve Management System, meanwhile, offers a central repository for Docker containers, VMs, and CODESYS applications. The software can perform simultaneous OTA updates to multiple Node devices and enable user management of device and software configuration.

The Nerve Management System provides VPN-like connections to containers and VMs, as well as remote screen and console access and “remote connection of CODESYS engineer tool to devices,” says TTTech. Security features include role-based access control, server-side validation, and TLS 1.2 and certificate validation.

Last week, Project ACRN released ACRN v2.3, which adds Enhanced GPU passthrough (GVT-d) to Windows as a guest on Intel 11th Gen Tiger Lake systems. There are also new extensions to shared memory based inter-VM communication, secure boot improvements, and enhanced system shutdown. The project removed ACRN’s “deprivileged” boot mode support in favor of more scalable multiboot2 boot (via Grub). This makes ACRN incompatible with Clear Linux.

Further information

Nerve Blue is available now with the ACRN 2.0 hypervisor at an undisclosed price. TTTech Industrial has also launched a 30-day free trial. The software is compatible with Intel Apollo Lake and Whiskey Lake systems, with Elkhart Lake support coming in early 2021.

More information may be found in the Project ACRN Nerve Blue announcement and TTTech’s Nerve Blue product page.

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