Ubuntu Core brings real-time processing to Linux IoT

Most of you are familiar with Ubuntu as a desktop operating system; others know it as an outstanding server Linux or as an enormously popular cloud operating system. but Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu, is also a serious player in the Internet of Things (IoT) space. And with its latest IoT version Ubuntu Core 22Canonical brings real-time processing to the table.

Real-time processing is when a program or operating system is fast enough to respond to data within a tight, real-world timescale. Typically, real-time computing returns results from microseconds (millionths of a second) to milliseconds (millionths of a second). Real-time applications that reduce latency to microseconds are high-frequency trading (HFT) applications on the stock exchange. The much more common real-time processing in the millisecond range is used in banking and telecom applications, digital advertising networks and self-driving cars. Incidentally, humans have an average reaction time of around 250 milliseconds.

To deliver it in Ubuntu, Canonical starts with that Ubuntu 22.04 LTS real-time kernel. This is based on the upstream Linux v5.15 kernel. It also integrates the out-of-tree PREEMPT_RT patch for the x86_64 and AArch64 architecture. The real-time scheduler can preempt threads in the kernel, including in critical sections, interrupt handlers, and interrupt disable code sequences, guaranteeing limited responses. By minimizing the non-preemptive critical sections in the kernel code, the PREEMPT_RT patches – not yet fully upstream – make the kernel more preemptive than the mainline Linux kernel.

The Ubuntu Core 22 real-time kernel, while only in beta, allows you to start working on IoT applications that require ultra-low latency and workload predictability for time-sensitive use cases in industrial, telecom, automotive, and more and require robotics.

Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth said, “With this release and the real-time kernel of Ubuntu, we are ready to extend the benefits of Ubuntu Core to the entire embedded world.”

Beyond the promise of real-time applications, today’s Ubuntu Core offers a robust, fully containerized Ubuntu. It breaks open the monolithic Ubuntu Linux image into packages known as snaps. This includes kernel, operating system and applications. Each snap runs in an isolated sandbox that contains the application’s dependencies to make it fully portable and reliable. Canonical’s Snapcraft framework enables on-rail snap development for rapid iterations, automated testing, and reliable deployment.

Each device running Ubuntu Core gets its own dedicated IoT app store. This gives both users and developers full control over what apps they run on their devices and how they run.

Ubuntu Core also guarantees transaction-critical over-the-air (OTA) updates of all components, from the kernel to the applications and back again. Updates will either complete successfully or automatically revert to the previous working version. In short, you can’t brick a device with a bad or incomplete update.

Core snaps also use delta updates that reduce network traffic. Finally, Ubuntu Core applications use digital signatures to ensure software integrity and provenance.

In addition to digital signatures, Ubuntu Core also includes other security features. These include secure boot, full disk encryption, secure recovery, and strict sandbox restriction.

Brad Kehler, COO of KMC controlssaid: “The range of IoT devices from KMC Controls has been specially developed for mission-critical industrial environments. Safety is of the utmost importance to our customers. We chose Ubuntu Core for its built-in advanced security features and robust over-the-air update framework. Ubuntu Core comes with a 10-year commitment to security updates, allowing us to keep devices safe in the field for their long life.”

That 10-year support combined with the ability to update it over-the-air is also important for people who are fed up with embedded and IoT devices that lazy vendors always fail to support. Now it’s much easier to deliver devices that are good not only today but for years to come.

Ubuntu Core 22 has the potential to be a game changer for embedded and IoT devices.

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