Friday, June 27, 2008

Virtualization – Managing Competing OSes

Gartner recently voted Virtualization as a top ten technology trend in the market today. Not only Gartner, but other sites and groups are voting it in as well. Since Virtualization has been around for over 40 years, why is it suddenly making its way to the top ten lists? In short, the rise of competing operating systems as viable challengers to Windows. Linux comes up in discussions more and more these days. Customers don’t want to pay for the Windows license in research and academic institutions. A free copy of Linux will do just fine, thank you.

In general virtualization stands for abstraction of computing resources. It hides the implementation of an application. VMware takes an x86 processor and makes it work on multiple applications with multiple operating systems.

Virtual Logix is a leading supplier of virtualization software that runs real-time, Linux, and other OSes such as Windows in separate cores. Each core runs separately but the software provides communication between the cores.

This type of virtualization let’s one run device drivers in one OS but let’s applications in another OS make use of that device driver. The VLX software “virtualizes” that device driver and synchronizes the use of the device driver across multiple OSes.

LabVIEW pioneered virtualization from the beginning by abstracting away the details of instrumentation programming. Everything was viewed through the lens of software which in the early 1980’s was a radical departure from the norm. Today, the same concept of virtualization is now applied to a new set of technologies such as multicore programming, FPGAs, and real-time systems.

A rich resource on the topic is a blog run by Tom Maila called ExpressionFlow which highlights concepts and ideas regarding object-oriented programming and the impact on visualization.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hybrid Processors—Combining FPGAs with Traditional Microprocessors

A new processor is coming onto the technology landscape today called hybrid processor. Which combines FPGA flexibility with traditional microprocessor architectures.

Intel is working on the Larrabee architecture which is a next generation gpu with 16 cores (or more) that eventually will be merged with standard microprocessors to create a hybrid processor.

AMD’s hybrid processor is called Fusion and has been in the news for so long it now has its own Wikipedia page.

Berkeley researches this area in a program called Chess with applications in systems, control, autonomous systems, modeling and computation.

The key to achieving performance with a hybrid processor is software that maps an application efficiently onto the multiple cores. In this survey the software platform needs to provide performance, advanced debug support, determinism, and thread locking to fully engage the potential of a hybrid. Numerous examples of compilers offer solutions based on C and other languages. FPGAs can process iterative functions such as matrix multiplication more efficiently than traditional processors while file I/O and housekeeping tasks are not as well suited. In this paper the authors argue for a simplistic software mapping of functions into hardware.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Medical Applications on the Mobile Phone – It’s Here

As the mobile phone becomes cheaper and more useful it’s now being used for medical applications. Business Week recently ran an article on how the phone is used to take medical images and ultrasound measurements. In addition, to non-measurement tasks, the iPhone is an ideal platform for viewing electrocardiograms and other medical information on a patient.

In this example researchers at Berkeley use a mobile phone to transmit an image (captured with a data acquisition device) to a central server for processing which returns the image back to the mobile phone for display to the user. The phone acts as a transmission and display device and works with a server and an image processing system to provide the medical image required.

Another application from UC Berkeley is the Cellscope which uses the camera feature of a mobile phone to magnify (from 2x to 50x) an image of a body part (mouth, ear canal, skin, etc) and then send the image via wireless for analysis by a doctor or specialist.

The Motorola Q phone comes with a medical application for labor and delivery. It provides real time waveform data of fetal heart tracing and maternal contraction patterns.

For a number of years now, researchers applied the mobile phone to Body Sensor Networks which monitors the health of a patient. The mobile phone analyzes, stores, and transmits the data to the healthcare provider.

Medical applications on the mobile phone are here and now. It’s amazing what can be done with commercial off –the-shelf technology when applied with a little innovation.

Best regards,
Hall T.