Enabling System Evolution through Configuration Management on the Hardware/Software Boundary

R.L. Krikhaar, W. Mosterman, N.P. Veerman, C. Verhoef

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


As the use of software and electronics in modern products is omnipresent and continuously increasing, companies in the embedded systems industry face increasing complexity in controlling and enabling the evolution of their IT-intensive products. Traditionally, product configurations and their updates were managed separately for the hardware and software discipline. At specified release moments during the development of their products, the hardware and software were released together. But, as the usage, flexibility and complexity of software and electronics increases, and fierce competition requires shorter time-to-market and customizable products, more frequent releases of integrated hardware and software configurations becomes necessary. This evolution requires adequate configuration management both within the hard-and software disciplines and across them. In many organizations, software configuration management is more visibly established than hardware configuration management due to the inherent flexibility and complexity of software. But as the flexibility of hardware has increased through the use of configurable hardware, the need for more intense hardware configuration management increased as well. To properly enable the evolution of integrated hardware/software systems, adequate configuration management is required in both disciplines. Our article deals with just that: configuration management on the hardware/ software boundary, and is mainly focused on the product development phase. The hardware/software boundary has a broad scope; in this article we focus on embedded systems containing software and custom and off-the-shelf electronic hardware, thereby concentrating on configurable hardware containing both software and hardware designs. It is important to note that the concepts of our article apply to configuration management issues that go beyond that scope. We investigated the configuration management practices in six large organizations in the embedded systems industry, including medical devices, defense equipment, optics, document processing, and semiconductor equipment. In particular, we looked at programmable/ configurable hardware, as the use and complexity of this technology continue to increase. We propose a generic development cycle with real-life examples to illustrate the configuration management concepts. Then, from the sociotechnical design point of view, we raise awareness and argue that configuration management tools, processes, and its organization must be further aligned to support the complexity and interdisciplinary nature of the hardware/software boundary of evolving embedded systems. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Syst Eng 12: 233-264, 2009.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSystems Engineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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