Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Critical Infrastructure Goes Open Source 

The electrical grid, water, roads and bridges—the infrastructure we take for granted—is seldom noticed until it's unavailable. The burgeoning open source software movement is taking steps to help rebuild crumbling U.S. civil infrastructure while capitalizing on expansion in emerging markets by providing software building blocks to help develop interoperable and secure transportation, electric power, oil and gas as well as the healthcare infrastructure.

Under a program launched in April called the Civil Infrastructure Platform, the Linux Foundation said the initiative would provide "an open source base layer of industrial grade software to enable the use and implementation of software building blocks for civil infrastructure."

Founding members of the initiative include global construction and integration companies such as Hitachi Ltd. (TYO: 6501), Siemens (ETR: SIE) and Toshiba Corp. (TYO: 6502) along with system software vendor Codethink and Plat'Home, and Internet of Things (IoT) component vendor.

The open source effort seeks to leverage collaborative software development as a way to reduce costs and speed the deployment of "foundational elements" across large and small civil infrastructure projects. An open framework also would help integrate projects with existing standards in order to develop "plug-and-play" system designs.

The expected outcome, organizers added, would be more reliable system designs along with greater safety and network security to ensure that critical services like gas, water and power can be delivered in emergencies such as natural disasters.

The effort also stresses sustainability: "The initial focus of [the Critical Infrastructure Platform] will help establish a long-term maintenance infrastructure for selected open source components, accounting for product life cycles of 10-60 years," organizers said. To achieve this, member companies will come up with "agreed-upon areas required to meet civil infrastructure systems’ requirements."

The infrastructure project also attempts to use embedded Linux software building blocks as a way to flesh out and scale IoT architectures to deliver "industrial-strength" platforms. "Partnering and open source development [is] necessary to ensure high quality core components based on IT technology," noted Marquart Franz, an IT platforms specialist at Siemens.

The project also targets the expected global boom in infrastructure demand that is expected to more than double by 2025 to an estimated $9 trillion. Emerging markets like China are driving that growth, and the Linux Foundation stressed the growing requirement for an open source software platform as multinational IoT projects are integrated with civil infrastructure development.

Without a standard approach, "infrastructure development faces duplication of effort, loss of development time, fragmentation and interoperability issues across other civil infrastructure systems," the group warned.

“Through collaboration and open source development, developers will be able to build the common framework that will support some of society’s most important functions for decades to come," Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, noted in a statement announcing the infrastructure initiative.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).