Open Source Technology for Emerging Platforms

The digital economy has transformed almost every area of human endeavour, from transportation to politics to dating. Since vast areas of our planet do not yet have reliable Internet access and new services are being developed every day, technology developers foresee a continuing expansion of the digital economy. However, this expansion will come at a cost.

The data centres that power the digital world consume thousands of hectares of land and over 300 gigawatts of electricity, the energy equivalent of 300 nuclear reactors. The solution to this problem lies in increased data centre density and power efficiency.

Hyperscale computers that will provide this density and efficiency are nearing commercial readiness. However, the transition to hyperscale systems is not a straightforward replacement of current hardware. The complexity of hyperscale systems demands changes in software, system deployment, network management, and security.

The main focus of the Open Source Technology for Emerging Platforms (OSTEP) program, funded by Seneca’s Industrial Research Chair for Colleges grant, is adapting, expanding, and transforming the open source software which underlies the digital economy to prepare for emerging hardware platforms.

Initial research was focused on adapting core open source software to run on ARM-based systems. Collaborating closely with Red Hat, a multinational open source software company, and with open source software developers, the program operated a network of more than 60 prototype ARM computers to build two new versions of the Fedora Linux operating system, a collection of 20,000 interdependent software packages. The ARM version of Fedora was developed successfully to the point where it had parity with the existing PC-compatible version of Fedora, and was made part of the standard Fedora software offering.

A Fedora re-mix optimized for Raspberry Pi computers (called Pidora) was also developed. It includes almost all of the software in Fedora, plus tools and software libraries specific to the Raspberry Pi.

Harish Pillay, Global Head of Community Architecture and Leadership at Red Hat, says, “Working with Seneca has helped drive and define a new set of capabilities in the Fedora space around the ARM CPU specifically the Raspberry Pi. This will greatly enhance the education reach of the Raspberry Pi and the knock-on impact of it will be the influences in the ARM CPU space for servers.”

Current research efforts focus on building an enterprise-grade version of the Linux operating system that will work on the new ARM hardware.

Other areas of research includes collaboration with NexJ Systems on large-scale automated testing, deployment, and monitoring systems to streamline software deployment cycle, and a project with BRAKERS Early Warning Systems to build a system which enables emergency responders to directly broadcast a warning message to vehicles nearby, using a combination of an emergency-vehicle control unit, an Internet-server-based distribution system, and a smartphone app.

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