Always-on reliability is vital for emergency response

The term 24×7 has integrated itself into the IT industry. Web sites need to be up and running 24×7, security needs to be on 24×7. Reliability and system performance are key to true 24×7 operations.

When CriSys Ltd. went looking for continuous uptime, they found the QNX operating system. Markham, Ont.-based CriSys develops emergency response software and needed to ensure reliability underneath their applications.

Dale Paus, president if CriSys, said many areas today need to be constantly up and running. He noted security and ASPs both need to worry about real-time, always-on computing.

Paus added there are many businesses today worried about this and they have to be looking for fault tolerant and reliable solutions. The CriSys system had to be able to interface instantaneously with end users and data systems. Paus said the system they provide is a decision support system with two parts that are very integrated.

“There is software that manages day-to-day operations. This includes managing human resources and vehicles. Once we’ve done work making sure they have the right people and the right vehicle, we have to make sure they can do something with that.”

The system includes real-time interfacing to telephone systems, radio systems, paging systems and weather systems. “Our system has to be able to react instantaneously,” Paus said.

The CriSys solution captures information from the phone line and displays it to the operator or dispatcher. The phone number calling will be displayed along with a name and location.

“We take that information to search databases and come up with a detailed map or building blueprints. We can also show the exact location of a pay phone, if the call is being made from one,” Paus said.

He added that the system will often replicate data like that, which comes from municipal governments, among others. They have to replicate the data because the government offices will shut down on Fridays, but 911 emergency response cannot do that.

“So we have to replicate data to ours. In putting together a platform to do that, it was imperative that the system be high performance – something that could interface to a large number of real-time devices at the instant they are giving us a signal.

“Because we needed it to interface to so many other systems, we needed something standards-based,” Paus said.

He noted QNX matched all of these requirements and also had an easy-to-use GUI and a developing environment that was easy to learn.

Greg Bergsma, vice-president of sales for Kanata, Ont.- based QNX software Systems Ltd., said their OS has a programming interface that is similar to Unix, so programmers who have worked in Unix, generally have no problem in the QNX environment.

“This OS has an architecture that was designed for high availability and high modularity, which allows you to develop components on the fly, so you don’t have to reboot your system in case of a system failure or an application failure,” Bergsma said.

Randy Martin, senior field application engineer for QNX, added that people can build on the core QNX kernel without fear.

“The drivers are protected from the kernel, so it won’t corrupt the system,” he said.

The QNX OS is a commercial real-time, microkernel operating system. Along with a protected kernel, it features modular components, and small memory footprint.

“QNX is event-driven, so you can follow the path of an event all the way through,” Martin said.

Paus noted that the architecture has allowed CriSys to network drivers without ever having to shut down and reboot.

“We have one client at a dispatch unit who did not have to reboot for three years,” he said.

He added that any problems they have had with the QNX OS have been attended to fairly quickly. “We’ll say we would like this or that, and they’ve been great about working through that.”

He likes the quick de-bugging tools that QNX has used with CriSys.

Vernon Wood, communication officer and technical supervisor for Oshawa Fire Services in Oshawa, Ont., said his department had wanted to move to a system with a better GUI. The outfit chose CriSys on QNX because of the reliability, deployment and the cost. “It really won everyone’s confidence.”

Wood noted that they have had no problems with reliability of the system. Changes can be made and updated while the system is running, and they do not have to reboot.

Paus said that QNX is now working on expanding their OS to other computing architectures. They’ve always supported the X86 architecture, and now they are available on PowerPC and ARM.

QNX can be reached at 1-800-676-0566, or online at