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Linaro Connect 2023: Tackling the World’s Software Requirements, With the People who Can

Wealth of open source knowledge on display from technical experts at Arm and across the software ecosystem at Linaro Connect 2023
By Andrew Wafaa, Senior Director, Software Communities and Fellow, Open Source Software , Arm

You can’t fail to be impressed at the wealth of software knowledge gathering in one place for Linaro Connect. As an annual meeting of Engineers, Technical Leadership and world-leading Arm Software Experts, Linaro Connect brings together the people who know most about the world’s open source firmware, operating systems, runtimes, compilers, middleware, workloads and libraries. Uniquely, it is the place where all that open source knowledge and goodness is pointed at enabling the latest Arm architectures. Ultimately, ensuring that developers can test and build their applications for tomorrow’s most widespread computing architectures.

Impacting the world’s software for years to come

So why talk Arm and software? With 250 billion Arm-based chips shipped to date, 70 percent of the world’s population uses software running on Arm technology. Arm is prevalent in IoT and mobile devices, like the latest smartphones and our technology used across cloud datacenters, 5G networks and supercomputers that run many of the largest High Performance Computing applications. And it doesn’t stop there. Arm has been supporting software innovation in the Automotive industry for over 25 years. There is also a growing community of PC developers building applications for Windows on Arm laptop devices. At Linaro Connect, it hits you that discussions held here will likely impact most of the world’s consumer-related applications, now and in years to come.

Reflecting a cross-company, cross-industry and across-the-stack focus, we saw keynotes from Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Huawei, alongside Linaro and Arm.

This year’s 300 strong gathering was a welcome reunion for long-term collaborators and an inauguration for many new faces. With disparate software talks taking place across the three days and participants showcasing new upstream projects there were few software topics left untouched. Nonetheless, there were some standout themes.

An effective model for problem-solving together

Collaboration was perhaps the biggest overall theme. In his opening session, Linaro GM and VP of Developer Services, Joe Bates, described Linaro as a neutral ground for solving the world’s Arm-based software challenges. He explained that Linaro membership helps companies work together on Arm related software requirements in an open environment, sharing engineering hours and investment and negating the need for complex legal frameworks. We know from the results that the engineering hours soon stack up. Linaro consistently lists in the top ten contributors to the Linux Kernel, it manages over 40 Arm open-source projects, submitting 47,000 patches for those in the last two years.

In his subsequent keynote, Arm VP Open Source Software, Mark Hambleton, also underlined the importance of collaboration in relation to Arm architectures. Describing the Arm Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) as the contract between hardware and software, he said:

Our ISAs are strongly curated but collaboratively developed alongside our ecosystem of 1000+ partners.”

He added “…A strongly curated ISA makes it more stable to land software on. It ensures that the software will keep working on both historic and new hardware for years to come.”

On the role of open source, Hambleton said: “Together with Linaro and the wider ecosystem, we then work to enable our ISAs in the most used software upstream so developers across the world can get access.”

Supporting the next wave of digitization

In another call for collaboration, Arm Fellow, Robert Dimond spoke of the rise of Edge Computing in his keynote, predicting that an increasingly complex software stack becomes too burdensome for individual companies to support. He also highlighted the need to support software throughout its lifecycle as greater standards are sought for driving consumer experiences and meeting planned legislation around software updateability.

Dimond described how sharing software expertise enables an optimum blend of collaboration and differentiation to “enable innovation on Arm to flourish as the baseline work has been done together.”  He called for Linaro members to join the Linaro Edge (LEDGE) Working Group to agree and implement new standards for cloud native type workflows at the edge. Importantly, he underlined the need for adopting security standards in this space to establish a secure root of trust for devices through initiatives such as PSA Certified and Parsec.

Putting software security front and center

From here on, software security was a recurring topic, with talks and discussions relating to the latest thinking around confidential computing and the integral role of architecture, open-source software and support processes in eliminating risk. Arm Directors of Software Technology Management, Matteo Carlini and Shebu Varghese Kuriakose, shared updates on the latest open-source projects to enable the Realm Management Extension, a protected execution environment featured in Armv9-A architecture.

As leading figures in TrustedFirmware, they explained the recent momentum around this open governance community project, which is creating a reference implementation of secure software, primarily for Arm based devices. The project pulls together Arm ecosystem experts to build software for a multitude of devices and achieve security at scale. Carlini said:

Security is implemented and tested for mitigations and vulnerabilities in a centralized space, so we can solve it once and deploy for all.”

The event coincided with a five-year birthday celebration for TrustedFirmware-M, targeted at Arm Cortex-M microprocessors that are found in many power-optimized embedded and consumer devices and automotive applications.

Maximizing the experience for developers on Arm everywhere

Throughout Connect, there were signs of a united vision for better experiences, greater efficiency and a faster route to software best practices on Arm. Talks highlighted the need for interoperability at the edge, in the server space and the automotive industry. These requirements are currently being addressed by hardware and firmware standardization projects.

Arm SystemReady is ensuring software ‘just works’ on Arm

Arm SystemReady is a prime example, a certification program based on a set of hardware and firmware standards for a world of disparate devices. At Connect, speaker Dong Wei, Lead Standards Architect and Fellow at Arm, spoke of the growing support for Arm SystemReady. He announced nearly 100 public certifications after a period of almost daily additions to the list of supporters from silicon and software communities. We saw several speakers present on progress around this project and how it is tackling the challenge of device fragmentation, while retaining healthy competition, diversity and choice across the Arm hardware landscape.

Managing software complexity for the Software Defined Vehicle

Again on standards, we heard how the Scalable Open Architecture for Embedded Edge (SOAFEE) is the growing standard for enabling the software-defined vehicles of the future. Working in collaboration with 80 partners across the automotive supply chain, SOAFEE is creating a framework for enabling mixed criticality workloads across the cloud and vehicles. During a SOAFEE panel discussion, Arm Technical Director, Matt Spencer, shared more about the project, formed nearly four years ago. He explained how SOAFEE borrows from the tooling and best practices applied in cloud native, but delivers additional dimensions that are unique to the automotive industry.

Spencer noted: “There are specific features in the automotive space that infrastructure hasn’t solved to date, around functional safety, real-time and heterogeneity. SOAFEE is focused on understanding that additional part of the problem and apply [the tooling] that’s already there.”

Getting work done to enable developers

So much of what we heard at Connect was a display of shared goals and the great things we accomplish when working together. This work provides developers with better experiences building, supporting and optimizing on Arm, whether on silicon, the Linux kernel user space, operating systems or cloud vendors.

A great example of such work came from Marcus Perryman, Principal Software Engineer at Microsoft. He presented the latest open source software tools and middleware work delivered through the Windows on Arm project which has been running for the past year with Microsoft, Arm, Linaro and Qualcomm involved. Perryman underlined the recent advances for Windows developers both in emulation and enabling native Arm experiences on Windows on Arm laptop devices via the Arm64 CE development platform and new Windows Dev Kit, both available to start developing on today. These latest developments are designed to ensure the seamless deployment of applications for Windows on Arm.

Taking the contribution crown

Across sessions at Linaro Connect, we heard a sustained display of collaborative achievements. Yet perhaps the biggest stand-out achievement sits with event hosts, Linaro. Firstly, for executing a critical event for Arm software that succeeds in building and cementing knowledge and relationships across the ecosystem. And secondly, for Linaro’s engineering commitment and delivery in this space. A slide shared in the opening talk showed how Linaro developers are leading contributors to the 6.3 Linux Kernel release, committing 12.1 percent of changesets and 24 percent of lines changed (see more in this blog). As software engineers who are top of the contribution list, Arnd Bergmann and Krzysztof Kozlowski were awarded crowns on the main stage.  Yes, this was a nod to the Coronation of Kings Charles III that took place in London just after the event. But I also saw this as symbolizing the unparalleled status of Linaro and members in leading the software community to ensure that developer experiences on Arm are both enabling and effortless.

If you missed Linaro Connect this year, you can see keynote and technical talk recordings via the Linaro Resource Hub.

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