Keep on RTOS running

It’s not just performance and safety that matters, according to the results of our reader poll

Reader Survey Results Back at the beginning of October, we asked the readers of The Register about Real Time Operating Systems, or RTOS. An RTOS is special, in a good way: you can have confidence that things will happen on schedule, and that critical processes won't be impeded by low-priority stuff which soaks up resources and makes the crucial stuff happen late.

Here we are a few weeks and almost 200 responses later, and it's time to deliver a round-up of the data you gave us.

We started off with a demographic style question to understand what industries people worked in. Almost a quarter (24 percent) picked the aerospace and defence industries as their first choice, with 17 percent employed by organizations in industrial verticals. Another 16 percent worked in networking or telecoms, 8 percent in medical and 7 percent in the automotive trade. Just over a quarter again (27 percent) answered "none of the above".

So overall no surprise, then, that over half of respondents are in the four areas that share a particular quality: a potential for things to go really, terribly, wrong and for people to get a bit killed or injured in the event of undue delays and unpredictable execution schedules.

So, we've established that most people are working in situations where timing matters. Moving on to question two, we were frankly fascinated by the responses. We asked readers to pick just one area when asked: Which of the following is most important to your organization when developing embedded systems/OSs for connected IoT/IIoT devices?

No shock when we read that 54 percent – a nice, round 100 people – said that improving performance was the thing that mattered most to them. After all, this is pretty much what the RTOS is for (we think it's fair to consider that making performance snappier and more predictable counts as "improving" it). But what about the other 46 percent? Well, 16 percent said that maximising data security was their single biggest imperative. Another 13 percent went for minimising power consumption while reducing product development time mattered most to 17 percent.

Perhaps our implicit assumptions were a little wide of the mark, but we were more than a little surprised to see quite so many people – almost half – pick something other than performance as their primary aim. Your correspondent had to give a little smile that some people went for maximising security (I'm a CISO in the day job) but it was nonetheless not quite what we expected. Having thought about it, though, this balance of answers is kind of reassuring: it shows that even when performance is a concern, organisations aren't just putting on the blinkers and doing it at the expense of other important concepts.

Moving on, then, we come to question three: picking the feature or features most likely to be prized in embedded systems going forwards. Top of the three, popularity-wise, was a future-proof architecture: 39 percent are clearly keen not to have to keep re-engineering stuff over the years. Next, we have support for modern programming languages – which makes sense given that the last thing you want when developing on a modern RTOS is an unserviceable need for 1970s COBOL or assembly language skills. Almost a quarter (24 percent) of people said they value edge deployment and management, and 8 percent reckon cloud and container integration will be in there. Our second little surprise, though, was the vote for AI/ML integration – a measly 6 percent of respondents. Just when you thought AI and ML were about to take over the world, too …

And, as Sir Trevor McDonald used to say, finally: Which of the following priorities is your organization most likely to consider when evaluating available Real Time Operating System (RTOS) platforms? Perhaps not surprising given the criticality of RTOS keeping some very important devices up and running at all times in aerospace, defense, medical etc was that 38 percent picked safety and security. Next in line was the need to fit into existing infrastructure or kit – 28 percent are keen not to introduce a white elephant that will only work with the current environment by using sticky tape and voodoo. Development cost came in at 15 percent and development time mattered most to 12 percent. Customisation to projects or workflows brought up the rear with 7 percent.

In some respects, then, what you told us about Real Time Operating Systems rings true. Performance matters, the RTOS is of significant interest to safety- and security-conscious industries, and if you're going to use one of them you need to be able to use modern programming languages to develop your software.

But the special characteristic of an RTOS – performance and predictability – aren't the be-all-and-end-all. People also care about security, and about being able to implement something with longevity that doesn't need constant re-engineering in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost.

And not many of you are seeing AI and ML as a key factor in your RTOS worlds, or at least not yet. And it's stats like this that make surveys like this interesting to write and read about.

Sponsored by Wind River.

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