Failing to do an accurate real time schedule design for a safety critical system means that designers do not know if the system will miss deadlines. It is impractical in a complex system (which means almost any real-world product) to do enough testing with a multitasked RTOS-based system to ensure that deadlines will be met under worst case conditions. Thus, a design team that fails to do scheduling analysis should appreciate that they have an unknown probability of missing deadlines, and can reasonably expect to miss deadlines in the worst case if the CPU load is above about 69% for a large number of non-harmonic tasks.
- Using Rate Monotonic Scheduling (RMA) when using an RTOS with multi-tasking capability, or using some other mathematically sound scheduling analysis. Rate Monotonic Scheduling (RMS) is what you get as a result of RMA.
- Documenting the RMA analysis including at least listing: all tasks, WCET for each task, period of each task, and worst case system blocking time. Assumptions used in the analysis should be stated and justified (for example, an assumption that no low priority task blocks a high priority task must be justified via written explanation, or if untrue then advanced techniques must be used to ensure schedulability). The system use must be less than 100% of the CPU if a set of favorable assumptions such as harmonic task periods can be documented to hold, and may be restricted to as low as 69.3% CPU used (meaning 30.7% unused CPU capacity) in the general case.
- A specifically bad practice is basing real time performance decisions solely on spare capacity (e.g., “CPU is only 80% loaded on average”) in the absence of mathematical scheduling analysis, because it does not guarantee safety critical tasks will meet their deadlines. Similarly, monitoring spare CPU capacity as the only way to infer whether deadlines are being met is a specifically bad practice, because it does not actually tell you whether high frequency deadlines are being met or not.
- Permitting more than one instance of a real-time task to queue is a specifically bad practice, because this can only happen when real time deadlines are being missed. This practice is a bandaid for a real-time system, and indicates that the system is missing its real-time deadlines.
Real time scheduling is a mathematical approach to ensuring that every task in a real time embedded system meets its deadlines under all specified operating conditions. Using a mathematical approach is required because testing can only exercise some of the system operating conditions. There are almost always real time scheduling situations that can’t be adequately tested in a complex piece of software, requiring either simplifying the system to make testing feasible, or using a rigorous mathematical approach to ensure that complex scheduling is guaranteed to work. When a multi-tasking real time operating system such as OSEK is used, a mathematical approach must be used to ensure deadlines are met.
Rate Monotonic Analysis
The generally accepted method for scheduling critical real time systems is to perform Rate Monotonic Analysis (RMA), possibly with one of a number of adaptations for special circumstances, and create a system with a Rate Monotonic Schedule. RMA has the virtue of providing a simple set of rules that guarantees all tasks in a system will meet their deadlines. To achieve this, RMA requires rules to be followed such as all tasks having a defined fastest time period at which they will run, and the period of tasks being harmonic multiples to permit using 100% of the CPU capacity. (Task periods are considered harmonic if they are exact multiples of each other. For example, periods of 1, 10, 100, 1000 msec are harmonic, but 1, 9, 98, 977 msec are not harmonic.) To implement RMA, designers sort tasks based on period, and assign the fastest task to the highest priority, second fastest task to the second highest priority, and so on. If a designer wishes to have multiple tasks at the same priority that is acceptable, but it is required that all tasks at a given priority execute at the same period.
If the CPU is over-subscribed, there are established methods of ensuring that critical tasks always complete while non-critical tasks get whatever CPU resources are left. The simplest method is to simply assign all non-critical tasks priorities lower than the lowest priority critical task (which works so long as those non-critical tasks can’t substantively delay with the operation of the critical tasks). If it is important to share available CPU time across a number of noncritical tasks even when the CPU is overloaded, this can be done by having non-critical tasks take turns at the lowest priority. Note that an overloaded CPU does not cause any critical tasks to miss their deadlines in this scenario; it is simply a matter of making non-critical tasks wait a bit longer to execute if the CPU is overloaded. (This assumes that the CPU can handle worst case demand from critical tasks. This assumption must be ensured by the design process for the system to be safe.)
Less Than 100% CPU Load Does Not Guarantee Deadlines Are Met
A specifically bad practice is looking at idle time during testing to determine whether or not the CPU is overloaded, and inferring from less that 100% usage that the system will meet its deadlines. That simply does not account for the worst case, or potentially even just an infrequent heavy load case.
As a non-computer example of missing deadlines with less than 100% loading, let’s say you want to spend five days per week working and three days out of every 12 volunteering at a homeless shelter (the fact that it is out of 12 days instead of out of 14 days makes these periods non-harmonic). Because work has a period of 7 days, it will have higher priority than the 12 day volunteer service period. This means you’ll complete all of your work the first 5 days (Monday – Friday) out of each 7-day work week before you start volunteering on weekends. Most weeks this will work fine (you’ll have enough time for both). But when the 12-day volunteer period starts on a Monday, you’ll only have one weekend (two days) in the 12 day period for volunteering that runs Monday of one week through Friday of the next week. Thus you’ll be a day short for volunteering whenever the volunteer period starts on a Monday. The amount of time you’ve committed is 5 days out of 7 plus 3 days out of 12: 5/7 + 3/12 = 96.4%. But you’re going to come up a whole day short on volunteering once in a while even though you are less than 100% committed and you are taking some weekend days off, performing neither task. You could solve this by committing 4 days out of 14 to volunteering, which is actually a slightly higher workload (100% total), but changes the period to be harmonic with the weekly work cycle. (3.5 days out of every 14 would also work.) Thus, as shown by this example, non-harmonic task periods can result in missed deadlines even with a workload that is less than 100%.
Douglass provides a pattern for static priority real time scheduling and states: “the most common policy for the selection of policies is rate monotonic scheduling or RMS”. (Douglass 2002, section 5.9.5; note that rate monotonic scheduling is what you get as a result of rate monotonic analysis).
In the context of safety critical operating systems, Kleidermacher says “Rate monotonic analysis (RMA) is frequently used by system designers to analyze and predict the timing behavior of systems.” (Kleidermacher 2001, pg. 30).
MISRA Report 3 discusses the use of real-time kernels (which for our purposes are operating systems that use some sort of scheduling approach). It notes that there are a number accepted scheduling techniques, and that the use of “best available technology” such as for example using a certified RTOS brings benefit, providing a reference to a number of text.
- Douglass, Doing Hard Time: Developing Real-Time Systems with UML, Objects, Frameworks, and Patterns, Addison-Wesley Professional, 1999.
- Ganssle, J., The Art of Programming Embedded Systems, Academic Press, 1992.
- Kleidermacher, D. & Griglock, M., Safety-Critical Operating Systems, Embedded Systems Programming, Sept. 2001, pp. 22-36.
- Lehoczky, J.; Sha, L.; Ding, Y. "The rate monotonic scheduling algorithm: exact characterization and average case behavior", IEEE Real-Time Systems Symposium, 1989, pp. 166–171.
- Liu, C. L.; Layland, J., "Scheduling algorithms for multiprogramming in a hard real-time environment", Journal of the ACM, 1973, (1): 46–61
- MISRA, Report 3: Noise, EMC and Real-Time, February 1995.