Jack talks to HCC Embedded about very high-reliability firmware design.
At the Embedded Systems Conference I had a chance to sit down with the Dave Hughes and David Brook from HCC Embedded. They have an unusual devotion to getting firmware right. Later, we had a telephone call and explored their approaches more deeply. I ran part 1 of this discussion last week, and here’s the second half. As noted last week, this has been edited for clarity and length.
Jack: I keep thinking about the Toyota debacle, where they were slapped with a $1.2 billion fine. The code base is something under a million lines of code, which means they have won the coveted, Most Expensive Software Ever Written Award. The open SSL thing, is interesting, because the group that actually was maintaining it were able to solicit on the order of only a few thousand dollars a year from industry to support it.
Dave: It's absurd that there is no better method. I mean, if I was running the world which, unfortunately, I haven't been granted yet, one of my goals would be to restructure how software is developed. Set up committees to say, "Look, we're now going to write a proper SSL, a proper TCP/IP and distribute this in a form that can be reused." And we can do that at relatively small cost. We could get that extremely high quality and we could make it very reusable so that these problems would be dealt with. And we could probably even create a competitive environment to do that in as well, to make it even cheaper, where they compete on, 'We've got fewer bugs than you'.
[Open Source Software: Tips for Avoiding Licensing Surprises]
Jack: How do you convince your customers that this software is, indeed, of extremely high quality? Because it's a claim that is easy to make and in fact, a lot of people routinely do. But, with you guys I know it's much more serious. How do you convince folks that this really is quality code?
Dave: You can trawl all the websites in the world and you won't find a software company saying that our software is slow, huge, unmanageable, or badly documented. They all say exactly the same thing and the web is a huge leveler in this respect because there are large companies, small companies, two men and his dog companies, all writing exactly the same thing on their web sites. At HCC we feel we can only make our quality argument by creating verifiability. So one of the ways we can verify this is by providing the test reports that show that this actually did achieve full MC/DC coverage. And therefore, if you run that on your platform, you will get exactly the same test results. We also publish documents like quality reports and checks for complete MISRA compliance. We enforce all MISRA rules. We provide a large amount of verification documentation to make people realize that there is provable quality in the products.
It is difficult because many feel quality is expensive. But all of the studies show quality is cheaper than doing it the "freestyle" way. Actually getting someone to pay up front for that without having been burned first is a very difficult thing to do. We are marketing using the engineering methods we've established and the verification tools we've built to show that this is actually proven to work in a much better way.
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