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MontaVista broadens Carrier Grade focus with CGE 4.0rc1

May 16, 2005 — by Henry Kingman — from the LinuxDevices Archive

MontaVista has begun distributing “release candidates” of a new version of its Carrier Grade Linux distribution, to both new and existing customers. Carrier Grade Edition (CGE) 4.0 is described as an “application-ready universal communications platform” targeting COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) telecom equipment. New features in CGE 4.0 include a 2.6 kernel, four user-selectable real-time modes, and high-availability features based on OpenAIS, MontaVista says.

Previously, MontaVista has only allowed existing customers to review its release candidates. However, the company hopes to broaden CGE's customer base, reasoning that it has already captured nine of the top 10 TEMs (telecom equipment manufacturers) and NEPS (network equipment providers), while tier-two TEMs/NEPs represent “an order of magnitude” more potential customers, according to Senior Product Manager Bob Monkman.

MontaVista also hopes to “eventually” expand the market focus of CGE to include front office applications, such as carrier billing systems, and even enterprise server applications outside telecom. The company says it is working on a per-server licensing option, to complement its existing per-developer seat licensing model.

MontaVista appears to face growing competition in the Carrier Grade Linux (CGL) space, with TimeSys and FSMLabs registering CGL Linux distributions within the last year, and Wind River expected to do so soon. However, MontaVista marketing officials dismiss the new competition. Monkman said, “We're seeing competitors getting on the CGL bandwagon. But the code they're using [to register CGL compliance with the OSDL] can have serious flaws with it, or can be dead code, based on projects that are not maintained.”

Monkman continues, “MontaVista is the company that understands what is going to work and what doesn't work. We're not doing a paper study here. It's amusing to see [CGL compliance] registrations pointing to code that's essentially useless. You'll hear our competitors touting one feature or another. But none of them are talking about COTS.”

When FSMLabs released its first CGL product two weeks ago, the real-time Linux specialist said that at $25,000 for four developer seats, its CGL product was priced $10,000 less than MontaVista's, while offering a hard real-time API that MontaVista couldn't match. TimeSys, meanwhile, helped develop the vendor self-registration process for CGL, and was the first to register a CGL 2.0 product.

MontaVista Marketing and Programs Manager Glenn Seiler said that until MontaVista's competitors can claim customers, in addition to compliance with the CGL specification, they won't really have a truly “carrier-grade” product. He explains, “When we partnered with NEC, they put our CGL product through rigourous testing, involving real-world simulations that were well beyond anything we had the capacity to do. It exposed a lot of deficiencies, and it took a long time to harden it to meet NECs requirements. Carrier-grade is in the eyes of the beholders, and its the NEPs and TEMs that will make that determination.”

CGE 4.0

Montavista's CGE 4.0 has two major new features: a 2.6-series Linux kernel with four user-selectable real-time modes, and high-availability features based on the OpenAIS project. Selectable real-time modes will enable flexible deployments in a range of telecom applications — from the front office to the data plane — allowing carriers to reduce IT costs through a standard distribution, MontaVista says. Standards-based availability features, meanwhile, will enable CGE 4.0 to interoperate with commerical and free software that implements failover and other features for high-availability clustering (as opposed to high-performance clustering).

Real-time features

Most of MontaVista's competitors released 2.6-based embedded distributions as long as 18 months ago. However, MontaVista waited for the 2.6.10 release, because that kernel best supports its real-time technology, according to Seiler. “We don't feel we're late to market with a 2.6 product. The 2.6.10 kernel is the right version to support our real-time technology.”

MontaVista's real-time technology for the 2.6 kernel includes kernel priority inheritance, the removal of locks in the kernel, and scheduled interrupts, as well as features under development that include user-space priority inheritance, user-space priority inversion detection, and priority ceilings. Seiler says some of the technology is likely to be merged with the main-stream kernel in the near future, but that in the meantime, MontaVista will enjoy a time-to-market advantage over competitors, based on having developed the technology.

Seiler explains, “Ingo Molnar incorporated [much of our] work right way. We're getting acceptance from key maintainers, and a lot of people really feel that at least Ingo's work — that we're synch'ed with — will make it into the near-term kernel.”

MontaVista also developed real-time technology that was merged with the 2.4-series kernel. However, Seiler says MontaVista's 2.4-series products offer partial pre-emption, while the 2.6 kernel in CGE 4.0 offers the option of full kernel preemption. He says the most stringent real-time option in CGE 4.0 offers preemption latencies up to 200 times lower than the least stringent option, which consists of a 2.6-series kernel without any pre-emption or other real-time features at all.

High availability features

The other major new feature in CGE 4.0 is compliance with the Service Availability (SA) Forum's Application Interface Specification (AIS) for high-availability. According to Seiler, the specification defines a set of base services useful in high-availability clustering, such as checkpointing, heartbeating, and cluster membership. “It's not on the level of GoAhead [story], but just some basic building blocks,” Seiler said.

MontaVista began implementing AIS in January of 2002, and released a partial implementation under a modified BSD license in June, 2004. Five months later, the OpenAIS project was adopted by the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs). MontaVista announced in early May that its CGE 4.0 product would be the first version of Linux to be registered with the SA Forum's AIS spec.

Asked why the company chose the BSD license, rather than the GPL, Seiler replied, “The BSD license is more flexible for that kind of technology. It's not really in the kernel. Carriers want differentiated availability, although the value line is rising. They're asking, 'Do we want to completely commoditize clustering? Or is that above the value line, such that equipment providers can use it to differentiate their products?' This debate continues. It will sort itself out in the next year or two.”

Seiler adds that the SA Forum's APIs are increasingly adopted in proprietary high-availability implementations, from software vendors including Clovis and GoAhead, as well as in implementations from platform vendors. Thus, licensing its AIS implementation under the GPL could have led to licensing contamination issues that MontaVista felt were “better left avoided,” Seiler said.


MontaVista will demonstrate CGE 4.0 at the SuperCom trade show June 6-9 in Chicago. Seiler said, “When SuperCom comes, you'll hear a tremendous amount of [buzz] from industry standards organizations and equipment providers about COTS, based on ATCA and Carrier Grade Linux. It's all about reducing costs, leveraging components, and having a stable Carrier Grade OS [that can be used] in multiple applications.”

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