Red Hat rocks the cradle, with Linux/eCos combo

Red Hat will create software for single-chip multiprocessors from Cradle Technologies.

Cradle Technologies has selected Red Hat to create a comprehensive suite of software support for Cradle's new "universal microsystems" (UMS) processor chips. Cradle's innovative new processor chips are, essentially, single-chip multiprocessors. According to Cradle CEO, Satish Gupta, the devices are intended to serve the needs of emerging system requirements for ultra-high-speed streams processing where vast amounts of data must be handled in real time. "Performance demands will be insatiable," says Gupta, "driving the complexity of chips exponentially."

The Cradle UMS chips will combine multiple RISC and DSP engines on a single chip -- "on the order of fifty" in a single device, according to Gupta. The result will be a highly parallel system microarchitecture. But that should prove no serious challenge to Linux developer Red Hat, which already has substantial Linux clustering experience. Red Hat, it seems, will be supporting the combination of its open source eCos real-time kernel coexisting with embedded Linux. A single multi-processor UMS chip will be able to simultaneously host multiple eCos systems, to handle the real-time low level functions, running alongside multiple Linux systems, to handle the higher order functions -- all on one piece of silicon!

Why this approach? Cradle's basic premise is that the single-chip multiprocessing capability offered by its UMS technology is the most practical way to meet super-high bandwidth data streams within acceptable hardware, software, and power consumption budgets. Cradle considers UMS to be a fourth computer generation, alongside the classic microprocessor, microcontroller, and digital signal processor (DSP). "The architecture of the UMS differs from its predecessors -- chips like the familiar Pentium or PowerPC," declares a Cradle whitepaper, "in that it contains dozens of small, fast processors that all work in parallel. This strategy is ideal for the embedded computing requirements of coming generations of imaging, multimedia, digital video, communications, navigation, and high-speed networking products."

The result? Cradle's technology whitepapers predict that "UMS devices will offer up to 15 GFLOPS while consuming only 1.5 Watts." Additionally, "dynamically programmable I/O pins will be available as part of an I/O subsystem that will contain an additional 2.5 GFLOPS, which satisfies a wide range of requirements, from custom interfaces to 1394, PCI, and Ethernet."

According to Gupta, Cradle's UMS chips will permit highly complex and performance-intensive applications to be created predominantly in software -- rather than requiring a combination of expensive conventional processors plus custom ASICs. As a result, "development of complex applications will center in software, instead of hardware, and thereby will produce tremendous economies in both design and cost," claims Cradle's website, which will amount to "nearly an order-of-magnitude performance improvement in terms of computing-speed-per-dollar over previous processor platforms, making fanciful products such as a $200 handheld DVD players attainable."

To maximize the benefit of a processor whose internal attributes are largely defined by software, rather than by factory microcode, Cradle is planning to leverage the emerging phenomenon of open source software. "This is open source software applied to silicon IP (Intellectual Property) for processors," points out Gupta. To that end, Cradle will be attempting to create an open marketplace of IP development for its devices. In the words of a statement on the Cradle website . . .
    Cradle maintains an open architecture policy. Anyone who has intellectual property can develop a version for a UMS with no royalties owed to Cradle, and sell it with no direct involvement by Cradle. If you have intellectual property you wish to sell in an open market environment, you now have an opportunity to leverage a platform and a business model that offers profits and flexibility. The tools are free. The cost of joining is only your time invested.
Cradle was founded in 1998 and is located in Fremont, California. Engineering samples of the UMS multiprocessors are expected to become available in early 2001.


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