Local company develops FreeBSD-based radars

Being freely available, easy to develop for, secure, and stable made FreeBSD the operating system of choice for Adelaide company Genesis Software’s radar systems which are now being exported around the world.

Genesis software and network engineer Daniel O’Connor said FreeBSD was the best choice when research and development on the radars began eight years ago.

“Some systems rely on modem access for connectivity and FreeBSD allows us to log in remotely,” O’Connor said. “It’s very stable and we’ve had boxes up for more than two years. It’s free so you can experiment with it and it’s easy to develop for. We’ve used FreeBSD from the beginning since about 1996 and it has served us well.”

FreeBSD is derived from the original Unix source code, and for many users FreeBSD comes closer to the idea of Unix than commercial variants that conform to the Open Group's specifications.

Genesis Software engineers customize computer equipment connected to radar receivers for research institutions and universities. The radars measure wind speed, meteor flux, and from this can calculate wind speeds in the upper atmosphere.

“There are other companies that make research radars but we’re probably unique worldwide,” he said. “The software we develop gets information from the receivers and processes it. It’s also used for monitoring the systems. Skiymet meteor radar measures thousands of meteors every day.”

Interestingly, Genesis hasn’t sold any radars in Australia yet while some 30 sold so far have been shipped around the globe.

The company’s customers include Kyoto University, Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research, MIT’s Iononspheric Plasma Research Group, and the University of Western Ontario.

“Global locations of the radars include the Ascension Islands, Germany, Sweden, Norway, India, Antarctica, and the Cook Islands,” O’Connor said. “Most radars can be configured via the command line or a GUI application but most of it is network administration which the customers don’t need to touch. We’re working on a more sophisticated version which will mark the beginning of automatic configuration.”

Genesis Software also takes advantage FreeBSD’s “ports” system for software updates.

“The radars might dial up once or twice a day and for updates we use a subset of the ports tree and make a customer release tree,” he said.

Internally, Genesis Software uses FreeBSD for network services including mail and file serving with developers using it on their workstations. O’Connor’s message to IT managers about FreeBSD is “FreeBSD works”.

“It’s effective, secure, easy to set up, and has lots of software available,” he said. “It’s a mistake to trim everything to ‘one size fits all’ which is the same thing as Microsoft. The more diverse systems are, the less likely you are to end up with the monoculture effect where one virus wipes out your whole office. It doesn’t matter what choice it is but just one is not good.”

O’Connor said that in general, FreeBSD and Linux are similar, so switching from one to the other is not a problem.

FreeBSD developer Greg Lehey said it’s a system that is somewhat conservative in design, but has repeatedly shown superior performance, stability and documentation.

“Of Netcraft's list of the top 50 web sites 47 run BSD and the number 1 place is held by a FreeBSD system which has been up for 1726 days,” Lehey said.

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More about: Microsoft, MIT, Netcraft, Open Group
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