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How to use Linux in industrial automation

Supplier: CrispTech By: Rick Peng, Business Development Manager, Moxa Inc.
11 May, 2011

The Linux OS can be found in many unexpected places in our daily lives.

From GPS navigators to smart phones, countless devices now run the Linux kernel. As a free and open-source solution, Linux offers some advantages compared to Windows. Is this open-source OS relevant for industrial automation? The answer is YES. Today there are many automation controllers or embedded systems that use Linux to provide services. Linux offers a customisable, reliable, and efficient OS solution for automation controllers and embedded systems.

This white paper explores the advantages and disadvantages of using Linux for industrial automation, and how to overcome common challenges in implementing Linux.

From x86 to Embedded Systems
Computer technology has advanced exponentially since 1980. Over the past thirty years, the x86 processor architecture paired with a proprietary IBM OS/2 or Windows operating system has emerged as the dominant platform for mainstream PCs. This is an appropriate solution for the consumer and general  market, but power users and system administrators needed a reliable operating system to provide consistent non-stop services to end users. Linux emerged as an attractive solution for server operating systems.

About 15 years ago, smaller and more portable computing devices began to appear on the market for more specialised use. Once again, Linux appeared as the most attractive solution for unique and demanding applications. Linux is now a popular OS solution for applications that are poorly served by conventional x86 systems. Because Linux is open-source, has low CPU requirements, and is memory-efficient, it is a very useful solution for this type of application. Many people interact with Linux systems every day, often without even realising it. These systems include distributed computing clusters that deliver supercomputer-level performance on a budget, kiosk devices such as ATMs and vending machines, and industrial automation controllers.

Advantages of Linux
Open Source:
The collaborative, open source nature of Linux is a central part of its developer culture. More practically, open source is also an attractive feature for licensors and users. Open source software is free, and can be adapted by the end-user for their specific needs. In addition, you can take advantage of any existing solutions relevant to your application that the open-source community has already produced.

Security: Microsoft Windows faces constant security threats from viruses, malware, and hackers. In order to remain secure from newly discovered security vulnerabilities, Windows users must keep their systems current with Microsoft’s latest patch files. The Linux OS is far more secure and faces much fewer threats. With Linux, system administrators can spare themselves the headaches of worrying about update downtimes and security vulnerabilities.

Stability and Reliability: Linux solutions offer exceptional stability and reliability. It is possible to update parts of a Linux system without restarting the entire system. All services running on a Linux platform are independent. If one service stops, it will not damage the other services. With Linux, the entire system has higher productivity and uptime

Cost-effectiveness: Linux’s cost advantages go beyond the price tag. Free Linux OS licenses for all your systems certainly provides substantial cost savings, but there are additional advantages. The increased stability and security of Linux systems reduces the workload and saves labor costs. In addition, there is an enthusiastic and passionate Internet community of Linux power users available as a rich resource.

Why Linux is Popular for Embedded Systems
Linux is commonly used in smart phones, GPS navigation devices, network switches, DVD players, and MP3 players. Linux’s open source code gives developers the flexibility to downsize the operating system to fit their target platform, or adapt it to better fulfill the specific requirements of their application.

Please contact us for the rest of this white paper.