April 14, 2015

The Companies That Support Linux: NI

Shelley GretleinIndustries as diverse as finance, aviation, medicine, the military, manufacturing, and telecom are adopting real-time Linux to help control robots, data acquisition systems and other time-sensitive instruments and machines. NI’s integrated hardware and software platform, based on the NI Linux real-time OS, helps enterprises accelerate productivity and drive rapid innovation as they build these next-generation, real-time technologies, says Shelley Gretlein, director of platform software and customer education at NI.

As new corporate members of The Linux Foundation, NI will be working closely with the foundation to contribute to the PREEMPT_RT real-time Linux patchset – a key underpinning of the company's cutting edge products.

“We have a vested interest in the long-term success of real-time Linux capabilities due to the mission-critical nature of our customers’ applications,” Gretlein said.

In this Q&A, Gretlein tells us more about NI, how and why they use Linux, why they joined The Linux Foundation, and what trends they're witnessing in embedded technologies today.

Linux.com: What is NI?

Shelley Gretlein: Since 1976, NI (ni.com) has made it possible for engineers and scientists to solve the world’s greatest engineering challenges with powerful platform-based systems that accelerate productivity and drive rapid innovation. Customers from a wide variety of industries—from healthcare to automotive and from consumer electronics to particle physics—use NI’s integrated hardware and software platform to improve the world we live in.

At our core, we are an engineering company and fundamentally believe in providing platforms that help engineers innovate. As an organization, we invest approximately 16 to 18 percent of our revenue back into R&D. The Linux Foundation is an extension of our belief in innovation and why we made this investment.

How and why do you use Linux?

We use the NI Linux real-time OS in our products that are based on both the Intel and ARM architectures so our customers get real-time performance and reliability with the approachability and usability of a desktop OS, as well as the ability to augment embedded designs with the extensive ecosystem of Linux applications. In addition to the benefits of reliability and performance, we can also quickly add new technologies to our platform including embedded user interfaces and HMIs, USB 3.0, security features, and more.

What does this mean to your customers?

Aerospace and automotive industries face constant pressure to maintain cycle times, which are costly when you consider the level of investment from design to prototype to production. This is partly attributable to the proprietary development of legacy software. New car models are often iterative each year while broad car innovations occur every 5–10 years.

Contrast this with the mobile phone and tablet markets, which can accelerate productivity because they scale and avoid reinventing the wheel on redundant software development. While each of us may not need a new phone or tablet every few months, the innovation and technology behind the devices drive expectations in mainstream markets.

Through an open architecture such as Linux, users can address two problems: 1) accelerate software development, and 2) control software development costs using an open, nonproprietary architecture.

Why did you join The Linux Foundation?

We joined The Linux Foundation to ensure we could deliver the most valuable Linux features to our customers in a timely manner. We also have a vested interest in the long-term success of real-time Linux capabilities due to the mission-critical nature of our customers’ applications.

Our primary goal is to serve Linux users. That being said, we look at the automotive industry to see how trends may be playing out within mainstream markets. We see three consistent themes.

        1. Users demand more connectivity in their day-to-day lives (always-on connectivity).

        2. Users want experiences similar to those offered by their smart phones and tablets (engagement).

        3. Users want these features at the right price point. For some time now, high-end vehicles have had the first two capabilities. Everyone else is left wondering, “Why isn’t that available in my car?”

What interesting or innovative trends are you witnessing in technology and what role does Linux play in them? How about in research and science? How is NI participating in that innovation?

There are several major technology trends happening right now. The rise of the lnternet of Things (loT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (lloT), in which smart, distributed devices will need reliability, connectivity, and security, are two trends that will impact many industries and benefit our society as a whole. This convergence is creating more collaboration and software is at the core. NI has been doing the "how" of IoT for a decade with our networked, distributed, intelligent embedded devices. Relying on Linux moving forward helps us incorporate the latest networking capabilities including time-sensitive networking, deterministic networking, and the critical security features that will protect IoT systems.

NI also continues to be a leader in research and prototyping tools for next-generation 5G wireless technology. We are working with Lund University to develop a testbed capable of prototyping a massive multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) system to address the capacity and energy challenges facing next-generation communication systems. Software defined radio (SDR) applications like this require platforms conducive to exploration and discovery, such as our USRP (Universal Software Radio Peripheral) devices. Researchers can use these SDR solutions for the flexibility to discover and innovate on the latest communications standards. Linux is a key part of these endeavors.

In addition, NI is collaborating with the European Organization for Nuclear Research, more commonly known as CERN, to push the standardization of all CERN control systems to Linux 64-bit OSes. This includes the Large Hadron Collider collimation system, which features applications that use LabVIEW system design software to control stepping motors on approximately 120 NI PXI systems. NI is pleased to have advanced lead users like CERN apply their extensive Linux experience in helping NI continue to release leading-edge products.

What other future technologies or industries do you think Linux and open source will increasingly
become important in and why?

Platforms to develop the IIoT exist today. The platforms that system designers choose need to be based on an IT-friendly OS so they can be securely provisioned and configured to properly authenticate and authorize users to maintain system integrity and maximize system availability. These platforms can achieve this through an open OS, like Linux, that helps security experts from around the world unite and develop the latest in embedded security. These platforms also need to be based on standard Ethernet technologies and incorporate evolving standards for a more open and deterministic network that meets IIoT latency, determinism, and bandwidth requirements while maximizing interoperability between industrial systems providers and the consumer IoT.

Are you hiring?

Yes, we are hiring. We encourage individuals to visit ni.com/careers to learn about the opportunities available at NI.

Interested in joining the Linux Foundation? Visit the corporate membership page.

As director of platform software and customer education, Shelley Gretlein leads a dynamic team of engineers, marketing professionals, and learning experts to ensure each NI software user is successful and productive. In addition, Gretlein works with R&D leadership to define current and future generations of platform software.

Since joining NI in 2001 as an applications engineer, Gretlein has held multiple leadership positions including manager of ANSI C and .NET software products in the Technical Product Marketing Group. Gretlein was also an integral part of the Real-Time and Embedded Software team where she helped facilitate the launch of the LabVIEW FPGA Module. In addition, Gretlein was senior manager of the Software Business Group where she led the adoption of the NI software platform. 

Click Here!