There are a number of potential applications for virtualization in smart home settings. These hidden virtual machines could serve a number of functions, such as replacing physical devices for home entertainment and media servers, supporting remote healthcare services and defining the home automation control modules.

Virtualization for Smart Home Technologies

Thinagaran Perumal

Virtualization for Smart Home Technologies

Author: Thinagaran Perumal

There are a number of potential applications for virtualization in smart home settings. As we know, home computers and small form factor servers become a more critical part of home technologies with always on features and providing services to other devices and applications in the home. This stimulate the growth of multimedia applications and services in home which requires them to become more powerful, with higher speed processors and beyond, creating possibilities to run many virtual machines as background tasks on their computing terminals. These hidden virtual machines could serve a number of functions, such as replacing physical devices for home entertainment and media servers, supporting remote healthcare services and defining the home automation control modules.  

Introduction

In recent times, there has been lot of interest and discussion about virtualization from IT professionals. Computing impact in last few years has brought up the virtualization into the scene again. Virtualization technology is a process of separating computing resources from the operating systems on a physical machine. By emulating a complete resources systems, each machine can share a common set of hardware unaware that this hardware may also be being used by another machine at the same time. Virtualization allows multiple machines with different operating systems to run side by side and isolated on the same physical machine. This is made possible by virtual machine, represents a physical machine, maintained by the virtualization software. Some of the technology providers of virtualization such as Intel™, VMWare™, Microsoft™ and open source providers like Xensource™ drive the virtualization towards enterprise computing. Referred as an initial usage model for server consolidation, the virtualization technology has slowly shifted to something that is transforming the data center and most recently the software industry. This analogy suits well the smart home scenario as the home evolves towards a data-intensive environment with many heterogeneous systems.  Figure 1 below shows the virtualization model in smart home scenario.

 

Figure 1: Virtualization in Smart Home

 

Why Virtualization?

Virtualization allows a single computer system or terminal to host multiple virtual machines simultaneously and to control various aspects of each virtual machine, including its hardware configuration, networking capabilities, and so on. These qualities enable the following kinds of usage settings:

  • Utilization of Resources – Virtualization enables the consolidation of hardware and contributes the increase for utilization rates. A good example is when executing multiplayer video games at home, whereas gamers require high performance in terms of graphic card, memory and other peripherals.
  • Networked Environment - Virtualization allows many virtual machines to run together on a single platform. This means system deployment is simplified. With virtualization, multiple operating systems can run on a single terminal simultaneously, with many cross-platform applications scenarios possible, and this promotes interoperability among heterogeneous systems.
  • Platform Independence - In smart home environment, we could see disparate systems with diverse range of services operating with different operating system. With virtualization, it will no longer be necessary to run a single operating system; the home dwellers will have the option to select the suitable operating systems for each application. With virtualization, application developers also could create dedicated, specialized home applications on the operating platform. The results or outcome of particular application could also be shared with other systems for joint execution of tasks.
  • Legacy System Support – Virtualization allows smart homes to maintain a degree of support for legacy systems while upgrading to new hardware and operating systems. Virtualization gives the ability for home application developers to produce a virtual machine running the legacy software, even the operating systems and platforms that are no longer directly supported by the vendors or manufacturers.  This characteristic enables saving hardware and operational cost.  Such scenario also drives the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) outcome in home settings that could stimulate market demands in creating domain specific applications for smart home purposes.
  • Manageability – With virtualization, heterogeneous system management are put to ease. If home dwellers want a new service addition, they do no need to shut down server to add more resources like memory or CPU upgrade. Here, the complexity is reduced tremendously because virtual machine environment are independent from the physical devices configured in home environment.

 

Virtualization Technology in Smart Homes

It seems that virtualization vision for enterprise computing is rather clear and moves forward in managing applications and lowering their cost. However in smart home environment, the constraint of deploying virtualization is related to the dynamic requirements and their need to leverage with different usage settings. There are a number of potential applications for virtualization in smart home settings. As we know, home computers and small form factor servers become a more critical part of home technologies with always on features and providing services to other devices and applications in the home. This stimulate the growth of multimedia applications and services in home which requires them to become more powerful, with higher speed processors and beyond, creating possibilities to run many virtual machines as background tasks on their computing terminals. These hidden virtual machines could serve a number of functions, such as replacing physical devices for home entertainment and media servers, supporting remote healthcare services and defining the home automation control modules.  

 

  • Automation and Control - Virtualization could bring benefit to smart homes in terms of hosting the control and automation modules for appliances. A typical smart home consists of heterogeneous systems such as access systems, lighting controls, energy management, security and digital surveillance, and many more. These heterogeneous systems allow home dwellers to specify actions and task to be carried out at specific times. Virtualization will enable smart homes as a robust entity with high availability by hosting such applications. This can be achieved by having distributed architecture where virtual devices run on top of the application tiers and various control points throughout the home which provide user interface for home dwellers in managing them remotely. In many cases, these interfaces reflect the browser based interface for control and monitoring. Hosting virtual modules on home dwellers terminals gives the applications access to greater processing capabilities and connection rather than operating them locally with limited resource. Intelligent algorithms embedded in those heterogeneous systems could utilize the virtualization’s greater processing power, connectivity and storage sizes.
  • Home Entertainment and Media Servers - One of the hottest application domains in smart home technologies is the home entertainment. In smart home premise, it has many operating devices such as Digital Video Recorder (DVR), Set-top boxes, audio CD/MP3 players, FM tuner, amplifier and HDTV. Entertainment computing terminals or in most cases, set-top-boxes, are part of these functioning devices that synchronizes the services and functions provided by all defined devices. Virtualization could increase the efficient use of resources by allowing many entertainment devices such as set-top box to run as virtual devices in separate virtual machines on the entertainment computing terminals.  

    As we know that one of the biggest challenge in home entertainment and media servers is managing the content. Home dwellers deals with various content of music, pictures and media, often ended up accessing these contents on a device other than the device being used commonly. This kind of scenario creates hassle for dwellers as they need to switch to different devices each time when it comes to access some of these contents. Virtualization could solve this bottleneck by deploying content virtualization in a distributed platform. This could enable service providers to port, integrate, and build media and service management efficiently of the media contents in home environment. Streaming media like Video-on-Demand (VoD) could be utilized from different sources, especially from media providers using virtualization technology. It is expected that all digital content in smart home settings will be integrated into a virtualization pool that is always available for home dwellers. This virtualized pool will automatically manage functions like synchronization, content distribution, Quality of Service (QoS) and perform discovery of content and devices in the smart home environment. Virtualization also will ensure organization, tagging and analysis for all the stored entertainment content in efficient manner. On the other hand, it paves the way for activity recognition of home dwellers based on their use and access made for retrieving those contents. Virtualization technology also could be the key contributor for moving or ‘movable’ multimedia especially in creating session mobility that provides seamless transfer of multimedia session between different devices and contents based on home dwellers preferences.
  • Assistive Computing and Healthcare - There is an emerging trend towards health care in smart home environment which demands higher degree of reliability and robustness. The delivery of assistive computing and healthcare services keep expanding in smart home environment. Virtualization Service Providers (VSP) could play their role by granting services to health care service providers. Health care service providers could utilize the virtualization technology by accessing and controlling the virtual machine configured in the smart home environment. Home dwellers grant the health care service providers on access and control permission to a virtual machine. This health care service provider will configure and manage the virtual machine. For example, a glucose level monitor virtual device created and installed by the home dwellers’ health service provider can run in a separate partition on the home dweller’s computing terminal that is also used for other purposes. This virtual device interfaced to the required wearable device is connected to the terminal to take measurements from the patient residing in the home. The virtual device could perform data analysis according to the schedule configured. Once analyzed, the data is transmitted over the Internet to the home dweller’s GP or medical centers and updated via a real-time health repository. With virtualization, many health care service providers could offer their dedicated services and boost the force for telehealth based business. 

 

Benefit of Virtualization for Home Technologies

There are some potential benefits of deploying virtualization in smart home environment. Those benefits are:

  • Scalability: In smart home environment, scalability is required especially with introduction of new services and upgrades of existing legacy systems. Scalability in virtualization is performed by decoupling the underlying physical hardware from the virtual machine image. Virtualization also removes the operating systems dependencies with the physical resources.
  • Reliability: Smart home are meant to be operation 24/7 and there is continuous streams of data flowing between heterogeneous systems and services. Virtualization promotes reliability as it will be always a lot easier and faster for recovery and restarting virtual machine than a physical systems defined in smart home environment.
  • Availability: Many scenarios in smart homes require heterogeneous systems to have high availability for interoperation or join execution of tasks. Virtualization enables a high level of availability by using methods such as replication and redundancy. If one of the systems fails, other backup systems are readily available online. With virtualization, replication of entire virtual machine is possible in order to run redundant servers or in maintaining content backups. Virtualization Service Providers can create a snapshot of an entire virtual machine instead of just the data. Therefore, during disaster recovery, the backup can be immediately deployed to any virtual machine host, minimizing the down time.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, we could see the vision of invisible computing could be realized in smart home context by deploying virtualization technology. Although many enterprises are already taking advantage of the virtualization potentials, there is still much development yet to take place in smart home scenes. 

 

Links:

  1. Intel Virtualization Technology, http://www.intel.com/technology/virtualization/index.htm
  2. Xen, http://xen.xensource.com/
  3. VMware, http://www.vmware.com/
  4. Sean Campbell and Michael Jeronimo, An Introduction to Virtualization, http://softwarecommunity.intel.com/isn
  5. Microsoft Virtualization, http://www.microsoft.com/virtualization/default.mspx

 

About the Author:
Thinagaran Perumal is pursuing his PhD in Smart Technology and Robotics and attached with Institute of Advanced Technology, University Putra Malaysia. He has been involved in research areas of middleware technologies and interoperability for smart home environment. He can be reached at thinagaran [at] hotmail.com


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