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Linux Foundation and pals – including Intel – back software ecosystem around RISC-V

Aiming to get a RISE out of processor architecture as tech giants commit engineering talent

Linux Foundation Europe and a number of big names in tech have banded together to drive development of a comprehensive software ecosystem that supports the open RISC-V processor instruction set architecture.

Dubbed RISE, which is intended to be an acronym for RISC-V Software Ecosystem, the project brings together vendors that agreed to make more software available for RISC-V hardware across a range of industry sectors – including mobile, datacenter and automotive.

Developing a software ecosystem with all the necessary tools and libraries, as well as applications and operating systems, may prove to be a bigger task than anticipated. It took Arm a decade or more to build up enough support around its architecture to make it a datacenter challenger for x86 systems, for example.

Arm itself dismissed RISC-V last year, with a spokesperson saying the company didn't see it as a significant competitor in the datacenter space, and better suited to "niche or specialized applications."

But the attraction of RISC-V is that it is not only royalty-free, but also under the governance of its member organizations rather than a single proprietor. RISC-V International says on its website that it "does not take a political position on behalf of any geography," and that it welcomes organizations from around the world.

Made in China

This has made it popular in areas such as China, which has been looking for ways around the US crackdown on supplying advanced technologies to the country. RISC-V provides a solution without Chinese companies having to go to the lengths of developing their own architecture, as The Register reported last year.

Qualcomm, already a member of RISC-V International, has also hinted that it sees this as an alternative to the Arm architecture for future products. This may have something to do with the legal action Arm has filed against Qualcomm over its Arm-based Nuvia CPU cores.

"RISC-V's flexible, scalable, and open architecture enables benefits across the entire value chain – from silicon vendors to OEM manufacturers to end consumers," said Qualcomm senior director of Technical Standards Larry Wikelius.

Tech giants to supply engineers

The broad number of companies that have some kind of interest in RISC-V can be seen from the RISE Project Governing Board, which from the off includes Google, Intel, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Red Hat, Samsung, SiFive, and Ventana Micro Systems.

According to the RISE Project, member organizations will contribute to the initiative financially as well as providing the workforce (or "engineering talent") to develop software to fit requirements identified by the RISE Technical Steering Committee (TSC).

The intention is that Project members will work with existing open source communities on a "robust software ecosystem" to include development tools, virtualization support, language runtimes, Linux distribution integration, and system firmware.

RISE Project chair Amber Huffman said interest in the open standard has been increasing. A growing number of chips based on the instruction set have also started to market over the past several years, including some focused on the datacenter, such as those announced by Ventana at the end of last year.

However, this momentum must be supported by adequate software, providing end users with applications that are reliable and commercial-ready, Huffman said.

“The RISE Project brings together leaders with a shared sense of urgency to accelerate the RISC-V software ecosystem readiness in collaboration with RISC-V International,” she added.

Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, the non-profit organization that oversees the instruction set standards, pointed to the “tremendous progress” already made in RISC-V adoption and praised the organizations now coming together under the auspices of RISE to invest in software support for the platform.

“Accelerating adoption is our shared mission. The collective investment of our community and in the RISE Project will build on that momentum,” she said.

Intel, is that you?

Intel’s involvement in the RISE Project is notable for the fact that the chip giant killed its own initiative, the Intel Pathfinder for RISC-V, earlier this year, less than six months after launching it.

Nevertheless, Intel VP and general manager of System Software Engineering Mark Skarpness said in a statement that "Accelerating RISC-V support in the open source software ecosystem, aligned with platform standards, is critical to the growth of RISC-V adoption," and Intel was "pleased to join other industry leaders in the formation of RISE."

"This is a much-needed development to invest in and build the vital extended ecosystem of platforms, tools and applications that are so essential to the acceptance and long term adoption of CPU architectures," IDC senior research director for Europe, Andrew Buss told The Reg.

The fact that the RISE Project aims to build a ecosystem including firmware and runtimes in addition to applications is key, he added.

"This will be critical for ensuring appropriate certified standards for system board development and standardized boot sequences, and so on, to avoid the issues that plagued the Arm ecosystem for many years with many different incompatible system designs that required tons of extra work to make the system usable."

"If anything, the RISE Project should make standardized platforms a core part of the initiative to give predictability to system designers, OEMs, developers and end customers."

Analysts at Omdia, meanwhile, said it projected "that RISC-V-based CPUs and co-processors will present a $1 billion opportunity in datacenter computing by 2028, with initiatives such as the RISE project acting as a significant tailwind for this growth." ®

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