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Embedded and internet of things (IoT) devices are a growing category of computing, and with that growth has come expanded needs for security and manageability.
One way to help secure embedded and IoT deployments is with a secured operating system, such as Canonical’s Ubuntu Core. The Ubuntu Core provides an optimized version of the open-source Ubuntu Linux operating system for smaller device footprints, using an approach that puts applications into containers. On June 15, Ubuntu Core 22 became generally available, providing users with new capabilities to help accelerate performance and lock down security.
Ubuntu Core 22 is based on the Ubuntu 22.04 Linux operating system, which is Canonical’s flagship Linux distribution that’s made available for cloud, server and desktop users. Rather than being a general purpose OS, Ubuntu Core makes use of the open-source Snap container technology that was originally developed by Canonical to run applications. With Snaps, an organization can configure which applications should run in a specific IoT or embedded device and lock down the applications for security. Snaps provide a cryptographically authenticated approach for application updates.
Canonical isn’t the only Linux vendor with an IoT strategy. In recent months, IBM’s Red Hat business unit has been growing its approach for enabling support for edge devices and IoT. Suse Linux has also been active in the space and recently updated its flagship enterprise platform.
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Real-time Linux brings more predictability to IoT
One of the highlights of the Ubuntu Core 22 update is support for the real-time Linux kernel as a beta feature.
“Real time” is a class of software and computing technology that occurs in a deterministic time frame. That is, it takes exactly the same amount of time for an action to execute every time, so if a user pushes a button in a car, it executes the same time, every time.
“It is amazing the amount of industries that are actually requiring real time,” David Beamonte Arbués, Ubuntu Core product manager, told VentureBeat. “In years past, it was mostly something that only automotive and medical applications needed, and now all kinds of applications are also requiring and demanding real time.”
A challenge with real time is that there needs to be very low latency for process execution in an operating system without interruptions. In the past, most real-time operating systems ran on bare metal, but with Ubuntu Core 22 it’s running in a containerized environment. Arbués explained that the Snaps system uses the same compute resources as the actual operating system, without introducing unnecessary overhead for resources.
Remodeling IoT devices is about to get easier
A common challenge with many IoT devices is that they contain a fixed set of applications. Prior to Ubuntu Core 2022, a device manufacturer would have predefined a set of Snap applications that can run on a device and that would be it.
Ubuntu Core 2022 introduces the concept of “remodeling,” which enables IoT vendors to modify the list of predefined applications running on a device. Additionally, the remodeling capability will make it easier for users of prior versions for Ubuntu Core to update to new versions as a remodel operation.
Canonical has also introduced a feature called Validation Sets, which helps to ensure that Snap applications that are related and dependent on each other are grouped together. The grouping is done to help confirm that as one application is updated, others within the same set will also be updated to a corresponding version that will enable compatibility.
Ensuring compatibility and enabling remodeling is critically important for IoT devices that could be in use for long periods of time. It’s also why Canonical offers up to a decade of support for Ubuntu Core.
“We can have up to 10 years of support for the whole operating system,” Arbués said. “I think that that’s something very important for these kinds of use cases where devices probably are going to be in the field for more than 10 years.”
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