UBM recently published the 2013 Embedded Market Study about embedded systems markets worldwide, including embedded design environment, tools, and operating systems. For me the use of a commercial open source operating system for embedded systems was interesting, which leads back to the question “what is the difference between embedded and integrated systems?”
To summarize the various definitions of an embedded system, an embedded system is designed to handle a particular task. A typical example would be consumer electronics, like MP3 players, but also factory controllers, medical devices, or systems controlling nuclear power plants. What they all have in common is that they are purpose-built hardware and operating system combinations.
But what about a printer with a standard processor and commercial operating system? Is it an embedded or integrated system?
An integrated system is built with a general-purpose operating system and standard hardware. The software components (like operating systems and applications) are customized to build a single system with a defined functionality. Integrated systems are pre-configured and pre-integrated hardware stacks (including hardware, OS, and software) or software stacks running on physical, virtual or cloud environments. They are often referred to as software or hardware appliances. Customization done for an individual customer or partner is not regarded as an integrated system.
The benefits of integrated systems are obvious:
- Lower development costs
- Increase reliability and security
- Faster time to market
Take the example of Teradata. Teradata chose a commercial open source operating system, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, as the foundation of its integrated systems. As a result, they were able to process big data securely, reliablely and quickly and lowered their costs.
So back to my printer – according the definition, it’s an integrated system. The transition seems blurred, but expect more of this kind of shift in definition as integrated systems become more popular.