The Linaro Project

PDF version of this report
You must have Adobe Acrobat reader to view, save, or print PDF files. The
reader is available for free

The Linaro Project

by Nancy

Docid: 00021371

Publication Date: 1709

Report Type: TUTORIAL


The Linaro Consortium has amassed an open source code base for open source
(OS), low
level system functions, and an array of development tools, all of which
threaten to topple the last bastions of dominance for proprietary
enterprise system solutions: Hyper sever data centers, network control,
and digital rights management for high value content delivery. Expect to
see disruption across the entire breadth of the solution spectrum.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

[return to top of this

Founded in 2010, Linaro is a member-sponsored open source (OS) technology organization
supported by subscription fees and in-kind donations of engineering
services. Linaro’s thriving open source culture is attracting great
interest from both established technology players and small innovative
solution developers. Linaro is closely linked to its progenitor, ARM. Here
is how this relationship works:

ARM creates intellectual property (IP) – but not tangible
products. ARM’s IP portfolio includes designs for CPUs, micro controllers,
graphics processors, and the like. ARM generates revenue by licensing
original component designs, workflow tools, and providing consulting
support to clients. Clients, in turn, use and customize ARM IP to build
out proprietary chip solutions across an array of niche markets. ARM’s
non-competing business model has been key to rapid advances in the
personal mobility product space.

Similarly, Linaro is a member-governed, non-competing organization that
produces software components that interact directly, at the silicon level,
with implementations of ARM designs. Optimally, these components will
exploit and expose features such as software interfaces to graphics,
power management, kernel, and boot elements. Linaro’s tools, systems, and
components dominate mobile device, “smart device,” Internet of Things
(IoT), and embedded systems products built on ARM technology. Hence,
Linaro’s ascendance is tightly coupled to that of ARM. ARM currently
generates around half its overall revenue from the embedded space, a
market that is growing explosively. ARM  Internet of Things
revenue approached $50 billion in 2016 and will have deployed 26 billion IoT units by 2020. All signs indicate that Linaro will simultaneously
emerge as a de facto low-level software standard for the Internet of

Linaro has numerous special interest working groups with both
heavyweight and niche tech innovators actively involved in defining and
steering the evolution and expansion of the organization’s software
component portfolio. These collaborations serve to push out frontiers of
technical capability on ARM devices. A key example is the recently formed Linaro Enterprise Group (LEG). LEG is currently developing core
technologies for very low power, high performance, rapidly scalable server
cluster designs. LEG members include ARM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson, AMD,
Applied Micro, Calxeda, Canonical, Cavium, Facebook, HP, Marvell, and Red
Hat. The group’s stated objective – creating energy-efficient ARM-based
servers – is something they clearly have the expertise and resources to
achieve. LEG expects to realize server cluster designs that eliminate many
of the components in traditional server designs, take up less space, and
consume up to two-thirds less energy.


[return to top of this

Meet Linaro

Founded in 2010, Linaro is a member-sponsored organization, supported by
subscription fees and in-kind donations of engineering services. Linaro’s
designs, systems, and components are used by most of the serious players
in the mobile device, “smart device,” Internet-of-Things, and embedded
systems spaces today. This dominance is impressive, given that by 2020,
ARM forecasts that there will be 26 billion deployed IoT units built on
ARM technology.

What foreshadows Linaro’s emerging position as a de facto standard is the
breadth of its membership. It’s not just hardware vendors; user-facing
solution providers like Facebook, HP, and IBM are actively involved in
defining and steering the evolution and expansion of Linaro’s software

Linaro benefits from a thriving open source culture that is accessible to
literally anyone. Prospective developers don’t need to own specialized
hardware, software, or tools to start creating technology based on
Linaro’s Linux Kernel elements. To really understand the significance of Linaro, it must be seen within the context of ARM’s open
community philosophy and current position of dominance.

  • ARM clients proactively collaborate in innovation. This confers
    the ability to crowdsource key ideas and techniques, accelerating
    expansion and evolution of the IP portfolio.
  • ARM offers astonishingly flexible, client-friendly licensing
    arrangements, thereby dramatically expanding their potential customer
  • An ARM-based processor design can be built in any of several chip
    foundries, which reduces potential for supply chain disruption and IC
    vendor price manipulation.

These competitive advantages are easy to grasp when applied to physical
hardware like CPUs, but the Linaro software analogs are even more
compelling. Linaro components provide members, partners, and clients the
same ROI and time-to-market advantages as the ARM business model provides
to hardware vendors, but with one additional bonus:

  • Reliance on Linaro software tools and technologies can
    dramatically reduce platform fragmentation,
    is, the need to develop separate software versions for every variation
    in most hardware/operating system combinations.

Key Linaro Players: From Tech Heavyweights to Indie Solution

ARM has been in business about ten times longer than Linaro. Given the
disparity, it would normally be rash to assume the success of the first
automatically confers similar success on the second, except for one thing:
Adoption trends. Linaro partners include both the biggest and the most
innovative players in the world. Facebook and IBM were both charter
members. Early adoption by technology superpowers is always a good sign,
but nothing tells the story of Linaro’s ascendance like the gold rush
mentality among another pivotal group: software developers. Each month the
Linaro community and its working groups release improved versions of
development tools, graphics and multimedia optimizations, power
management, and networking technologies. These products are created in
direct response to requirements defined by community members. This rapid
progress and transparency has aggregated a developer constituency for
Linaro that is unlike anything ever seen for OS level tools and
technologies. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of this degree of
engagement on the part of the people who will ultimately build out the
portfolio that enables Linaro and ARM to deliver value to end users
and profits to innovators.

Why Linaro Looks Like the Team to Beat

The tablet market saw a compound annual growth rate of more than 23
percent through 2016, and a large majority of those tablet devices will be
built on ARM processor designs. In the same time frame, tablets shipments
outpaced shipments of PCs. Smartphone shipments passed the two billion
mark in 2016. More than 90 percent of those smartphones run on ARM
technology. The picture is clear: ARM essentially owns the
foundation of the mobile technology stack. And Linaro is the key to
unlocking the power, feature set, and portability of ARM based
Trends in the broader mobility space affirm
the ascending dominance of the ARM/Linaro pairing.

For all its strengths, the chief reason that Linaro is swiftly gaining
share is that the alternatives have simply become untenable in a fast
moving global device market. Innovators in that space have long faced
intractable problems arising from a reliance on proprietary and fully
custom system on a chip (SoC) implementations – problems which drive up
costs, increase risks, and extend time to market:

  • Ever shortening device lifecycles create a need to rapidly produce
    designs that are significantly differentiated from competing devices –
    something which is very hard to do using off-the-shelf processors.
  • Fragmentation of device populations (differing SoC device and OS
    version combinations) makes it difficult to retain equity in software
    portfolios and developer skills.
  • The device market moves so quickly that software engineers simply do
    not have sufficient time or incentive to exploit advanced hardware
    features of unique new processors.

An ARM/Linaro mobility platform nullifies these issues by offering
standards-based core components and by harnessing the energy and
creativity of the open source community to deliver timely access to
advanced processor features. Ultimately, this allows Linaro members to
build on a solid foundation of core elements, applying their own
engineering and design resources strategically, efficiently and

Current View

[return to top of this

Many Hands Make Light Work

When you consider the significance of the fact that Linaro corporate
membership comprises the cream of the global Linux developer community, it
underscores how dramatically this group of collaborators might push
frontiers forward: The most talented specialists, working together to
create vendor neutral solutions to Linux/ARM challenges, all of which meet
specific, current needs articulated by expert interest groups of Linaro
members. The process works all the more effectively because Linaro
corporate members contribute in kind labor as well as direct funding
support to the permanent Linaro engineering staff. This collaboration
allows Linaro to make rapid, substantial progress in many areas
simultaneously, and to flexibly, rapidly staff projects with the worlds
most talented engineers. Currently, Linaro is roadmapping projects which
target some of the toughest remaining OS challenges and the heretofore
most closed market spaces:

  • Linaro supports a new generation of single board computers targeting
    set top box solutions. This device, produced by HiSilicon, complies
    with the 96 Board Enterprise Edition TV Platform specification, and is
    capable of running any set top box solution based on Linux or Android.
    Copies of the board are being made available to developers for less
    than $100 USD. The HiSilicon 96 Board technology, code named Poplar,
    delivers low cost / high performance hardware for developers and
    solution designers working on leading edge media delivery. Key
    features include advanced digital rights management capabilities and
    fully secure delivery and playback of high value media.

  • Linaro provides a complete open source Reference Software Platform for
    ARM v – 8A powered server processor architectures. This advance will
    accelerate the evolution of ARM based server implementations for two
    reasons: First, it offers a comprehensive, end-to-end solution,
    including open source boot and firmware code that is compliant with
    leading bootstrapping standards; Second, and equally important, Linaro’s
    reference platform has been successfully tested in conjunction with most
    of the common Linux variants (Debian
    and CentOS distributions, OpenStack, OpenJDK, Hadoop and Spark, as of
    the date of the original announcement). The breadth of the
    platform virtually guarantees broad enterprise interest.
  •  Linaro’s Monarch architecture offers a stable, open
    source OpenDataPlane implementation. Monarch’s OpenDataPlane APIs
    create an abstraction layer that allows data intensive applications to
    run across a broad range of physical hardware platforms. Technical and
    performance enhancements make it a key infrastructure element for
    development and deployment of 5G networks. In contrast to current
    technologies, Monarch based solutions have the potential to provide
    significant energy savings, vastly improved throughput and very low

  • 2017 saw the beta release of the Linaro Developer Cloud. This
    launch established three cloud based facilities, one each in Cambridge
    UK, Austin TX and Shanghai China. Essentially, these facilities provide
    “bare metal” access to a technology stack that includes ARM SoC server
    hardware platforms, key emergent ARM/Linaro innovations and many Linaro
    Interest Group member projects. The Linaro Developer Cloud
    provides near zero-cost access to resources. This kind of
    critical resource access could propel even a very small talented
    group to world class levels of achievement and discovery. Key
    areas of research and development being encouraged include server boot
    architectures, kernel optimizations and virtualization


[return to top of this

Linaro and the Evolution of Device Security

At the 2017 Budapest Linaro Connect event, the Linaro Security Group
conference track unveiled multiple promising device level security research
and developments. Perhaps the most promising and well developed of
these was “The Universal Key Ring” solution presented by Anders Rundgren of Universal Key Ring is a security architecture,
provisioning and management scheme for secure cryptographic keys. Targeted application of the solution include virtual SIMs, online banking,
payments, e-Government access and enterprise single sign-on.
The Universal Key Ring model is compatible with and builds on the 2017 FIDO
(Fast ID Online) Alliance standard articulated by the

Essentially, the confluence of these technologies points us in the direction of a “post password” world.

A real world implementation of the Universal Key Ring/FIDO would
provide fast, secure, convenient user authentication with no server side
storage of “shared secrets”; no 3rd party involvement in the
user authentication; and no “linkability” between the sites or accounts a
user visits after being authenticated in a single sign on. This
approach dramatically reduces exposure to many types of risk, including:

  • There is no accumulated trove of identity data on a server for hackers to target.
  • There is no position available from which to launch a “man-in-the-middle”, phishing or replay attack.
  • There is no possibility of tracking an authenticated user.

These advances are so powerful it is almost impossible to understate how
big a role they will play across the computing spectrum from tiny Internet
of Things devices to huge server farms and super computing facilities.


[return to top of this

The ARM/Linaro collaboration is having a dramatic accelerating effect on
platform evolution across the spectrum of computing devices. This is
definitely an area where IT professionals will benefit from monitoring
feeds and special interest group chatter, because significant competitive
opportunities and capabilities will arise from Linaro’s rapid
innovation. Two standout examples are:

  • ARM/Linaro groups are currently working on improving performance of
    server cluster architectures that eliminate many of the components in
    traditional server designs, take up less space and consume up to two
    thirds less energy. Expect to see these come to market in strength
    within the next twelve months. Be prepared to take advantage of the cost
    savings they bring to hyperscale computing environments, where flexible
    scaling, energy cost reduction and small footprint are key choice
  • The Linaro Robotics Group and Linaro Mobility Group are rapidly
    establishing dominance in their respective spaces. Expect to see new and
    innovative solutions in those domains being almost exclusively driven on
    open source technologies of Linaro and its allies.

Assume that going forward, the lion’s share of mobility solutions will be
Linaro-based at the interface of software and silicon. Stay abreast of
what is happening in Linaro developer communities. Both challenges and
opportunities will generate discussion there early. In addition, the
Linaro open source community is both global and highly dynamic. Advances
in the software development tool chains that support massively distributed
collaboration may very well ripple across into enterprise mobility
management platforms, dramatically reducing costs.


[return to top of this

About the Author

[return to top of this

Nancy Nicolaisen is an author, researcher, and
consultant specializing in designing solutions based on small, mobile,
connected devices.

[return to top of this