Virtualization was once viewed as an esoteric technology for server farms, but these days it has become an essential technology for a wide range of embedded applications. By enabling multiple OSs to run on a single hardware platform, virtualization makes it possible to:


  • Consolidate previously separate functions to reduce system size, cost, and power
  • Bring innovation to market faster while preserving legacy code
  • Enhance security, safety, and availability through application isolation and software redundancy


Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT) enhances these benefits through unique hardware accelerators that improve the performance and security of virtualized solutions. Intel® VT consists of three key technologies:


  • Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT) for IA-32, Intel 64®, and Intel® Architecture (Intel® VT-x), which greatly reduces the overhead of virtualization and makes virtualization operations more reliable and secure.
  • Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT) for Directed I/O (Intel® VT-d), which facilitates secure assignment of I/O devices to specific OSs, decreasing the load on the processor and accelerating data movement.
  • Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT) for Connectivity (Intel® VT-c), which improves network performance of virtualized devices by integrating hardware assists into certain Intel® Ethernet controllers to sort and group packets. 


For a great overview of Intel VT, I recommend the white paper The Benefits of Virtualization for Embedded Systems. This white paper describes how virtualization works and is improved through the use of Intel VT. It also shows how solutions from members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance make it easier for OEMS to take advantage of virtualization. The Alliance’s 160-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and systems integration services that give OEMs a head start on their designs.  You can also get a quick overview of the advantages of virtualization and how Intel VT can help move a virtualization project forward with this infographic from Intel.


To gain a deeper understanding of virtualization, see Virtualization – Power of Three, or Should One Prevail?. This article lays out the various methods of virtualization (binary translation, OS-assisted or para-virtualization, and hardware-assisted or full virtualization), their pros and cons, and the role Intel VT plays. Then, for some great perspectives from industry experts on why virtualization matters in embedded applications and how to overcome implementation challenges, check out Virtualization Experts Round Table with Wind River (Associate member of the Alliance), Green Hills Software, LynuxWorks, and TenAsys (all Affiliate members of the Alliance).


As I noted earlier, one of the key benefits of virtualization is its ability to facilitate hardware consolidation. You can fill out your knowledge on this topic by reading Consolidating Hardware with Virtualization. This article provides a great introduction to using virtualization and multi-core processors to consolidate previously separate hardware in applications such as industrial automation, print imaging, medical, communications, military, and security.


For virtualization insights that come from real-world projects designed to reduce SWaP (size, weight and power), as well as to increase functionality and speed time to market, see Leveraging Virtualization in Aerospace & Defense. This white paper by Premier Alliance member RadiSys discusses how to use virtualization to enable multiple applications to safely work on a single ATCA blade, ease legacy software migration, and implement fast software failover, among other usage models.


You can find more examples of virtualization enabling innovation in the webinar Cloud Computing for Network Equipment, featuring Premier members Emerson Network Power and RadiSys. This webinar shows how Intel VT enables new compute models with flexible resource allocation, helping service providers reduce capital expenditure (CapEx) and operational expenditure (OpEx).


Moving on to the security front, the article Securing Low-Power Devices with Virtualization from Green Hills Software discusses how the Intel® Atom™ processor E6xx series can run both high-security and open-source OSs on the same low-power platform. It includes usage examples include retail, in-vehicle infotainment, and gaming systems.


There are many more resources on the Intel*Embedded Community to help you get started with Intel VT. For example, the article Maximize Performance in Virtualized Systems by Wind River provides excellent advice on how to use Intel VT to assign hardware resources to specific OSs to ensure specific performance, security, and availability goals are met.


virtualization.pngIndeed, the links I’ve listed here only scratch the surface of what the Alliance has to offer. To learn more about virtualization for embedded devices, visit The materials on this page will give you a great start on putting virtualization to work. I also recommend browsing Intel VT-enabled solutions from the Alliance to get an even greater idea of what you can do with this technology.



Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance

Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine

Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston