MontaVista Aims for Bare Metal with Carrier Grade Edition Linux 6.0

Targeted at network equipment makers, Carrier Grade release delivers a new approach to achieving bare metal performance on multiple cores.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Oct 21, 2010
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Vendors who support carrier-grade traffic have more stringent needs than those supporting general computing users. That's why there are Carrier Grade Linux (CGL) standards in place along with carrier-focused versions of Linux that adhere to those standards.

This week MontaVista updated its Carrier Grade Edition of Linux to version 6.0, including new virtualization, 4G wireless and serviceability features.

With Carrier Grade Linux 6.0, MontaVista is introducing a new type of virtualization to Linux, with something it calls the Bare Metal Engine. The new technology could end up helping to improve performance for networking gear from multiple vendors that are MontaVista customers. Among MontaVista's customer base are Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent.

"The Bare Metal Engine is a container that is assigned to a specific core and it's configured such that the engine will get 99.9999 percent of the core's processing power," Dan Cauchy, vice president of marketing and business development at MontaVista told InternetNews.com. "It's not bothered by any of the administrative overhead of a regular Linux kernel."

Regular Linux kernels include timer ticks and other system interrupts that can potentially take processor cycles away from a processor core.

The term Bare Metal Engine is not to be confused with the KVM hypervisor, which is also part of MontaVista Carrier Grade Edition 6.0. KVM is sometimes referred to as a bare metal hypervisor by developers, as it is integrated in the mainline Linux kernel.

"We do not use KVM for the Bare Metal Engine," Cauchy said. "We use a modified Carrier Grade Edition kernel that has all the secret sauce to be able to use the virtualization technology of the hardware and processor affinity."

On top of the Bare Metal Engine is a management interface that enables control of the cores and configures the kernel. The core technology behind the Bare Metal Engine is all open source, but don't look for it in other Linux distributions just yet.

"The Bare Metal Engine code is all GPL but we haven't pushed any of this back upstream to the open source community yet," Cauchy said. "But without the configuration tools, it would be difficult to use anyways, and that's where we think the value lies. The configuration tools won't be pushed out as open source."

In addition to the new virtualization capabilities, the 6.0 release improves on wireless LTE features that MontaVista introduced in its Carrier Grade Edition 5.1 release, which debuted last year.

From a serviceability perspective, which is key for always-on network deployments, MontaVista has enhanced its RTAP (Run Time Application Patching) technology. With RTAP a network equipment vendor can apply binary patches to a running system, without having to reboot the system.

The Carrier Grade Edition 6.0 release also includes a rebasing of the Linux kernel from the 5.x release branch which was based on a 2.6.21 kernel. With the 6.0 release, MontaVista is now using the newer 2.6.32 Linux kernel and intends to support it for up to ten years.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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