12 October 2009

Chris Smith, vice president of marketing, Green Hills Software

Chris Smith, vice president, marketing Green Hills Software speaks with Chris Shaw

NE: What are your thoughts on Embedded Systems Conference UK (ESC UK)?
CS: Without this show, what else would be left with? To not have an embedded show in the UK would be leaving a huge hole in the market, so I'm glad Tech-Insights has stepped in and taken up the challenge. This is not the Embedded Systems Show of old, it's a high quality conference of technical papers and tutorials, with the exhibition supporting the programme.

With this in mind, I would like your readers to appreciate the importance of the event. The turnout has been lower than expected, as I fear engineers haven't connected the dots – some may have even gone to Birmingham, the former event location, instead of Farnborough!

This is the first ESC and I am proud to be in an advisory role on the steering group, but we need to get the design engineers out of the office. We've got some of the best software speakers – NXP, Freescale, ST – all well respected in the industry – and this will help the show grow. We need more vendors too and then we can expand the technical conference.

NE: Do exhibitions still matter?
CS: I believe that exhibitions still hold high value. While virtual events and webinars have a place, they can't be sustained in the same way as an exhibition. The old adage holds true – people buy people. And what better place to go than ESC UK? There is plenty of justification for an engineer to attend - there are a host of highly respected speakers such as Jack Ganssle and Dan Saks, plus it's a great opportunity to network with industry professionals. For example, Green Hills Software has 27 years' experience and we know how to solve the technical software problems that visitors may have.

It's often the face to face approach that works better for design engineers when discussing issues such as how to overcome the non real-time problems they are experiencing with embedded Linux. For example, they may not have considered virtualisation as a solution to this problem. We can provide our customers with a point of contact to bring all their questions to and we can show designers how to solve even the most complex embedded software challenges.

We've been providing expertise since 1982 and working closely with international standards. So if safety is the issue, our customers can get our platform for industial safety which includes our IEC 61508 SIL 3 certified INTEGRITY RTOS. Everyone wants a more reliable product, so if you don't do it right, this becomes a major issue.

NE: Do software engineers get a fair deal?
CS: If you compare the expenditure in tooling of a software engineer with a hardware engineer developing a chip design, the first will have a fraction of the tooling budget in comparison. A percentage of software engineering is drastically underfunded and it needs serious investment – software engineers deserve a better deal.

A lot of organisations get equipped and invest in other areas, but very often the software guys get overlooked. If more investment was made in software engineering, improvements would immediately be seen all the way along the line – for example, engineers would use advanced debuggers (that have been on the market for 15 years) instead of primative printf debugging.

A lot of companies have a legacy of code based on old, flat memory model, operating systems and processors. Any software bug or malicious attack will crash the entire system. You've got an instant problem and this is completely avoidable today. Technology and programming processes have evolved over the last decade and we have to promote breaking down the large historic monolithic binary into manageable source components, with each component being executed in its own memory partition - this is inherently more reliable and far less prone to failure. However, you then mention words like 'multicore' and 'virtualisation' and the response is invariably, 'I'm not sure I know how this latest technology would benefit us'. At the end of the day, the best advice I can give is, 'talk to us, we have the expertise in these areas, and let us show you how to solve your embedded development problems.'

NE: What are your thoughts on the skills shortage problem?
CS: There is a distinct lack of engineering at student level and we need to enthuse young people to get involved in the industry as a whole. Otherwise, over time, our engineers will lose out to those from India and China and the level of knowledge in the UK simply deteriorates. If the skills shortage continues, we are going to find ourselves in a situation where the UK becomes little more than a service industry!

Green Hills Software is technology driven and not marketing driven. And it is this approach that has resulted in us leading the pack – for example, our INTEGRITY RTOS technology was the first and only operating system to be certified by the NSA to EAL6+ High Robustness. This is the highest level of security ever achieved for any software product. So when we talk about delivering certification, we do it – and we do it in house in partnership with the customer. Ultimately, our goal is to get engineers better equipped to deliver safe, secure and reliable products across all industry sectors.

Chris Shaw

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Green Hills Software Ltd

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