The USS Zumwalt is the most technically advanced warship in the US Navy. Launched two-years ago, it is a guided-missile destroyer armed with Tomahawk and anti-submarine rockets. It looks jaw-dropping. The hull slopes inward to deflect enemy radar signals, so it shows up no bigger than a fishing vessel. An exhaust suppressor makes sure there’s no tell-tale white foam trail dragging behind.
The inside is equally astonishing. There are touch-screens offering a new level of computer automation. The guns can be moved and fired from within the central ops room, which looks more like a financial trading centre than anything found on the ocean.
Military analysts call the USS Zumwalt the next-generation of vessel for head-to-head enemy combat. In press briefings, the US Navy revealed something else about the warship – that it runs Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Internet of things developers are realising they can use standard Linux in a wide variety of situations
The use of Linux in the most demanding security scenario is proof of how trusted the operating system has become. Advocates have long claimed the open source nature of the code brings significant security advantages over closed-code rivals. Open source means there are no hidden nasties and no secret backdoors to worry about. Security protocols can be examined by anyone who wants to take a look. There is complete transparency.
Perhaps the most significant thing about the USS Zumwalt deployment is that it is using completely standard Linux. It’s not a special version or limited edition. The Navy is using the same version found in enterprises from Fortune 500 companies through to startups.
This point is resonating in the world of the internet of things (IoT). Developers are realising they can use standard Linux in a wide variety of situations. It is suitable for companies of all sizes, from Fortune 500 enterprises to cost-sensitive startups. And standard Linux is suitable for the full spectrum of IoT requirements, too.
We know that Linux is hugely popular for servers, both at the analytics level and at the gateway level connecting IoT devices. But now that the processing power of the IoT sensors themselves has increased, with many running on standard x86 chips, Linux is becoming a mainstream choice for IoT devices. From weather sensors to baby monitors, the IoT device can run on standard bootable Linux. Yes, the very same version found on board the USS Zumwalt. The implications for the IoT industry will be profound.
WHY LINUX IS IDEAL FOR IoT
The leap to Linux brings a long list of advantages. Yes, there’s security. There is also familiarity. The current IoT world is a patchwork of proprietary platforms and licences. Developers moan about needing to learn new technologies when they move from the sensor to the gateway server. New hires may have no understanding of the technologies being used. It’s a headache.
When Linux is the operating system, there are none of these problems. Developers will be already familiar with Linux. They’ll have used it in their professional life, and maybe their person life, for years. There’s nothing new to learn.
As Linux can be used for IoT sensors, for the gateway servers and the enterprise-level analytics servers, there is continuity across the entire eco-system. This avoids developers getting stuck in one niche, unable to work with colleagues on another part of the project.
Cost is reduced. By using Linux at each tier of the IoT chain there is no need to accumulate proprietary licences. Training costs are slashed. The fact that developers already know how to use Linux means the time to market is faster.
Furthermore, developers can make use of a suite of middleware tools. Red Hat is the biggest name in enterprise Linux, with a 65 per cent share of the paid market. Its middleware tools cover the full gamut of needs, including messaging, data virtualisation and business logic rules management.
Red Hat general manager of business platforms Jim Totton says IoT developers appreciate being able to deploy standard, existing tools with a proven track record. “Our middleware suite is called Red Hat JBoss Middleware. It is used by the world’s biggest financial institutions and stock exchanges. It is routinely used across the enterprise world. The same technologies used by these companies are now being used by internet of things developers, who appreciate they can use enterprise-grade middleware in their own projects,” he says.
For IoT propositions, which require a high degree of connectivity between mobile devices and enterprise servers, such as streaming and other cloud-based services, developers can use a platform such as Feed Henry. It is a popular mobile application development platform, which works perfectly with the Linux operating system. Mobiles and tablets are now a core part of the IoT world. Platforms such as Feed Henry ensure it is easier than ever to produce mobile and tablet-based IoT services.
Some IoT services have specific requirements. For example, some applications require low latency and strongly “deterministic” behaviour. Again, Linux offers an off-the-shelf solution.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux for Realtime is a low-latency, deterministic platform, designed for real-time applications. Other platforms would require specific development to address these issues. Linux offers standard tools.
Naturally, security will remain a big selling point for Linux. Mr Totton at Red Hat explains that it’s a prime reason developers work with his company. “Red Hat has a world-leading tradition of providing security fixes faster than almost any other technology provider. We make sure any security patch is applied before any exploit takes place,” he says.
Security, like all areas of Linux R&D, is developed by the entire community. By contrast, other platforms are developed by lone operators or small consortia. Linux offers the collective strength of a global community of developers, academics and enterprises.
When working on an IoT project, it helps to have the right partner. One reason Red Hat is prospering in the IoT world is its size and reputation. A $1.8-billion revenue company, with 7,300 employees and more than two decades of working with enterprises from the Fortune 500 through to startups, Red Hat has a credibility and scale many IoT niche rivals fail to match. When an IoT device marker or service provider grows, it needs to know it’s using a platform which won’t disappear or stagnate. Red Hat Enterprise Linux gives that reassurance.
IoT developers are waking up to the idea that the tools they need already exist and on a platform they know well. Security is at US-military grade. When IoT booms, Linux will be playing a very big role.