Bringing Linux Containers to Small-Footprint Industrial-Edge Applications

December 12, 2019

Linux containers have been broadly used in data centers and IT environments for years. Until recently, they were not easy to use with pre-integrated platforms for embedded market segments such as industrial, energy, medical, and transportation. Lack of container knowledge and broad ecosystem collaboration limited their use in small-footprint edge systems, especially in the industrial area.

But recently there’s been a shift—the use of containerization in edge systems is becoming a reality. Let’s explore how such an approach can remove the barriers to container use in applications such as IoT gateways, industrial automation control systems, radio access network (RAN) products, and a wide range of network appliances.

In the last decade, enterprise IT applications have increasingly been developed around “cloud native” computing architectures, because of their speed, scale, and economic benefits. Applications are segmented into micro services, increasing the reusability of individual modules while enabling agile deployment models and improving the efficiency of maintaining the code. Applications are then deployed within containers, where a container integrates the application itself along with all dependent libraries and associated functions, resulting in a quick-loading, standard unit of software that has a minimal footprint. Containerized applications are highly portable between computing environments, since they’re isolated from the underlying compute platform. Orchestrators control the instantiation, scheduling, and management of containerized applications to optimize the utilization of compute, memory, and storage resources.

Standards-compliant, cloud native implementations based on open-source projects are possible thanks to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which serves as the vendor-neutral home for many of the fastest-growing container-related projects. The foundation fosters collaboration between the industry’s top developers, end users, and vendors.

While initially deployed in enterprise IT environments, cloud native architectures and containers provide benefits that are equally desirable for industrial, energy, and medical embedded systems located at a factory, hospital, or remote site. Code reusability, efficient maintenance, platform independence, and optimized resource utilization are just as important for devices and applications developed by small teams working to meet aggressive schedules, deployed across multiple hardware architectures based on a variety of processor architectures.

Our distribution, for example, includes pre-integrated components configured to deliver a fully functional solution for embedded systems such as edge appliances and industrial automation-control systems. By leveraging this pre-integrated container platform, developers can focus on creating the applications that represent their true differentiation, enabling them to accelerate their time-to-market for value-added solutions.

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