How one company is using Ubuntu Linux to make its IoT platform safer and faster

Engineers at Bosch Rexroth have chosen an open source way to power their app-based automation platform, citing better security and faster time to production.

Ubuntu manufacturer Canonical has announced a partnership with Bosch Rexroth to put Ubuntu Core in its app-based ctrlX AUTOMATION platform. Ubuntu Core, which is designed for embedded environments and IoT devices, will be used alongside snaps (Linux application containers) to produce an open source platform with simple plug-and-play software. 

According to Canonical, the choice of using Ubuntu instead of proprietary software means that industrial machine manufacturers "are freed from being tied to PLC specialists and proprietary systems with the software being decoupled from the hardware." 

Adding snaps to the picture makes ctrlX AUTOMATION powered by Ubuntu Core even more useful, Canonical said, because it allows workflows like DevSecOps and CI/CD to deliver quick, packaged software to edge hardware "in a traditional operating technologies (OT) environment."

SEE: 5G: What it means for IoT (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Is open source the future of automation?

TechRepublic has predicted the rise of open source automation before, and it looks as if Canonical and Bosch Rexroth are some of the first to deliver a platform partnership that gives us what Jack Wallen predicted at the end of 2019.

Sure, his predictions were of open source automated software running amok, but the positives of what he predicted ("impressive automation [driven by] Helm, Terraform, and other Kubernetes-centric tools") is fairly spot on here.

In the case of ctrlX AUTOMATION, which uses Linux snaps to power its software, the result is impressively automated security. 

Linux snaps, as built for ctrlX, are designed to operate in complete isolation. They're packaged with all their dependencies, can't be altered once deployed, and can act on their own to roll back to previously known good versions in case of emergency.

Snaps can be developed using C, C++, Python, JavaScript or Go, which is uncommon in industrial settings where specialized languages like IEC 61131 and G-Code have typically dominated. 

SEE: Python programming language: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Holger Schnabel, product owner of ctrlX CORE at Bosch Rexroth, said that the design of ctrlX AUTOMATION is the future of IoT. "With the support of Ubuntu Core, ctrlX AUTOMATION can combine the worlds of automation and IoT in an open, modular and secure way to build a future proofed and innovative automation platform." 

In this single example, Bosch Rexroth picked Ubuntu Core to drive its IoT automation suite for industrial tools. There's no reason that automation powered by open source software is restricted to the industrial world, though. 

As Wallen said in a piece about the best open source innovations of the decade: "open source is at the very core of IoT devices. Why? Two words: Linux kernel. Because the Linux kernel can be stripped down to a bare minimum of services and software, it's perfect for embedded devices." 

It's possible the IoT world won't move away from proprietary software, but if a company as large as Bosch is choosing to embrace it maybe we will see a universal, open standard for the future of the internet of things.

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