Walking into the Mentor Graphics booth at ARM TechCon, I was greeted by my friends Warren Kurisu and Shay Benchorin. It was good to see them both again. They were poised in front of a table with a Samsung tablet and a small Wi-Fi-ish box, next to a large Samsung printer. The demonstration was similar to a lobby check-in process, where I typed my name in a form on the tablet and the printer soon delivered a personalized welcome sheet.
It doesn’t sound all that cool until you realize what’s going on at the system level. Shay lamented that even his own management team didn’t quite understand what they were seeing. (Wally and Greg, if you’re reading this – take it from a IoT guy, this is exciting stuff.) After 4 years of incubation, Mentor is ready to take on a new business, combining their expertise in embedded software, board layout, and services, and leveraging key partnerships to do something about a big gap in IoT offerings.
I’ve mentioned the evolving IoT gateway requirements before, dealing with multi-protocol, long lifecycle platforms embracing provisioning and security features. The problem people keep running into with less flexible gateway designs (looking right at Intel “Moon Island” platforms) is customization, especially being able to add and certify wireless solutions. Most of the other approaches leave some expansion slot and ask the customer to have at it for anything past Wi-Fi.
Mentor’s first step is collaborating with Freescale to create a customizable gateway reference design for intelligent IoT gateways. The little Wi-Fi-ish box was actually a packaged quad-core i.MX6 design, complete with a thermal management solution where the enclosure contacts a heat spreader on the SoC when the board slides in. The board comes in a couple versions, with the usual gateway stuff down on the board: USB, HDMI, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 802.15.4 radio.
Layered on the hardware platform is what Mentor calls a SysDK. It contains both the Nucleus RTOS and Mentor Embedded Linux side by side, with middleware and integration with Icon Labs Floodgate firewall technology. Mentor has also done some integration with McAfee ePolicy Orchestrator to help with provisioning and security.
Those two pieces are what I’d expect from the Mentor embedded business. Since 2009 when Mentor purchased Embedded Alley for Linux to go along with their purchase of Accelerated Technology in 2002, Mentor has been building capability including adding CodeSourcery in 2010. There has always been a deep relationship with Freescale, who is more than happy to accept help in developing reference platforms around their processors with software support.
At previous events in recent years, that is about where the Mentor story stopped, at least for the public. There has always been a professional software services component, where Mentor teams can customize their software to a specific design. What Mentor is showing now – complete with datasheets for verticals such as Managed Lobby Services – is something very different for the company, more like what some M2M providers have been doing with cloud solutions, but with much deeper embedded expertise.
First is the hardware customization story. Mentor is offering the IoT gateway reference design in Gerber files, or in an Xpedition-ready package that customers can take and lay out themselves. I asked if there is a tie-in to enabling customers to do their own SoC design – not yet, today’s offering is Freescale based, but it isn’t hard to imagine the next steps being other merchant chips, then other customer-designed ARM chips.
Mentor can then layer embedded software over that, complete with ARM TrustZone-based security and over-the-air updating. Next, there is a cloud services platform, again completely secured and managed by Mentor developed jointly with Samsung.
Kurisu pointed out something very interesting – Mentor is actually now in the leasing business. Customers are asking Mentor to aid in project jumpstarting and small-scale pilots. These customers are reluctant to plow the investment necessary to establish their own private or hybrid cloud solutions, or to develop gateway hardware by themselves. (Don’t get me started on people trying to use public clouds for IoT deployment, for anything past presentation-layer stuff.)
This is new territory for Mentor, and a new partnership with the likes of Samsung for printing and digital signage components. It seems the marketplace is littered with IoT firms operating in one of the three tiers – lots of people at the edge, a few big firms in the infrastructure, and some smaller firms in the gap that is the multi-protocol gateway. We’re seeing new things like OpenFog pop up because there is this gap, and it has to do with end-to-end provisioning, processing, and security. Mentor is taking a big step here in doing something to solve the problem, with a reference platform approach plus a services offering.
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