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NightStar Brings Commercial Development Tools to Linux
Embedded and Enterprise Tools Available
October 28, 2005
With the upcoming rollout of NightStar LX, Concurrent Computer Corp. is bringing tools first created for internal use to outside Linux application developers who are willing to turn to commercial products to get the capabilities they need.
When NightStar LX is rolled out soon (the initial rollout was delayed due to adverse weather), the product will be initially available for Red Hat Linux only. The new development suite will later be offered for other Linux distributions, too, said Gary Beerman, Concurrent's director of marketing, during an interview with LinuxPlanet.
Running on Intel P4, Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron systems, the suite includes NightView, for simultaneously debugging multiple processes and threads; NightTrace, for displaying and analyzing dynamic run-time behavior; NightProbe, for monitoring, modifying and recording data values, and NightTime, a GUI to the suite.
The new commercial product evolved from RedHawk, a series of tools homegrown over many years within Concurrent for developing embedded Linux and Unix applications, according to Beerman.
Yet for this month's product release, the company has tweaked these tools to enable development of all sorts of Red Hat applications, embedded or not.
Atlanta, GA-based Concurrent has specialized up to now in two areas of embedded development: "on demand" systems for the cable and telecom industries; and real time devices for the aerospace, defense, and automotive fields.
"It took some doing to convince management to go to market with these tools. They really didn't want to give up 'the crown jewels,'" Beerman acknowledged.
Ultimately, though, perceptions of a strong market opportunity for a broad and highly capable toolset outweighed the initial hesitation, said the marketing director
Concurrent is targeting the tools both at ISVs (independent software developers) and enterprise developers, particularly in fields such as financial services, which still do a lot of custom development.
Also during the interview, Steve Brosky, Concurrent's chief scientist, touted the suite's advantages in terms of saving time and money. Other differentiators for NightStar, he said, include complete views of Linux kernel activity, application interaction, and application threads interacting on different CPUs.
Collectively, the tools provide a set of capabilities called "probing" which permit tools and programs to obtain "the value of variables" in executing user programs.
Probing, he said, is different from standard process-level debugging, which involves context switching between the user application and the debugging program.
In process-level debugging, the values of variables are generally obtained while the user application is stopped.
With probing, on the other hand, values are obtained while the application is running. "So there's minimal intrusion and minimal overhead," the scientist said.
In fact, the NightView tool is the only Linux debugger that lets developers run programs at full application speed, to know in advance how applications will actually function in real time, according to Brosky.
In contrast, by running more slowly, other debuggers can change the behavior of an application, he contended.
"You can also use NightStar for memory debugging, patching the hooks right into the code," Brosky maintained.
NightTrace, moreover, is designed to provide additional visibility, giving a synchronized, time-based display of events, states, and data values in running applications.
"You can see exactly what your application is doing, and when," according to the chief scientist.
NightTime, on the other hand, simulates the realtime performance of an application, also without affecting execution behavior, Brosky said.
"You can change the variables as the application is running," he added. "You can either view the data in realtime or log it so you can look at it later."
NightStar supports programming languages that include C, C++ and Fortran, compiled with either Intel or GNU compilers.
Prior to its release this month, Concurrent tested the product with several customers in its customary markets, including CAE Germany, a systems developer for European defense forces, and ProActive Technologies, a player in the military training and simulation industry.
Down the road, Concurrent plans to give NightTrace more support for "application-centric" trace data, Brosky said
Integration into the Eclipse IDE Framework is also in the cards for the future.
Meanwhile, Concurrent hasn't decided yet which Linux distribution to move to next, according to Beerman.
"But we're thinking about Novell SUSE and MontaVista. They hold the lion's share of the need for tools," the Concurrent exec said.
Concurrent is offering a 30-day trial on NightStar. Users can choose between node-locked (single-system) and floating (network-based) licensing, and between download and CD distribution methods.
Available at the end of this month, the download version is priced at $2,975 for a single-system, plus $1,995 per additional user.
The purchase price includes a one-year warranty covering phone support, software updates, and problem resolution, Beerman told LinuxPlanet.