By Jacob | December 31, 2009

1U Rackmount Boards Serve Up a Diverse Array of Solutions


The 1U server form factor is slowing carving out a niche in military embedded computing. 1U product vendors are bringing all the key technologies to bear: Ethernet, GPU processing and multi-core combined with all the ruggedizing tricks of the trade.

1U Blade Server computing solutions and other 1U rackmount boards are rapidly finding a niche in a variety of military applications such as SATCOM-On-the-Move systems. Now that complete server-level computers are available in a 1U blade, it’s possible to pack a lot of computing in a convenient rack-based space along side off-the-shelf 1U network routing and advanced communications boards. The 1U form factor makes it easier to put together systems that incorporate existing IT-based 1U boards, such as specialized encryption systems, precision timing boards or tried and true networking gear like Cisco routers.

In contrast to backplane-based architectures like VME or CompactPCI, 1U rackmount systems are busless and typically use Ethernet or other cable-based technology to link boards with one another. The lack of a backplane also significantly reduces overall system weight. An example Ethernet-centric 1U blade is Win Enterprises’s PL-8000-a 1U rackmount networking and network security platform based on the Intel EP80579 integrated processor. The EP80579 is a system-on-a-chip (SoC) that integrates CPU, North Bridge, South Bridge and optional Intel QuickAssist accelerator technology on a single chip.

The platform offers a choice of processor performance of either 600 MHz or 1.2 GHz, a high-bandwidth DDRII DIMM slot with memory up to 2 Gbytes, and a full set of VPN functions such as encryption, hashing and public/private key generation. Storage features include one 3.5-inch SATA HDD and CompactFlash. The platform offers five GbE Copper and a maximum of eight GbE Ethernet ports via PCI-E x1 or x4 that are accessible on the front panel. To prevent network problems when the platform shuts down, PL-8000 supports one segment of LAN bypass function through WDT and GPIO pin definitions.

GPU Accelerator in 1U

The 1U form factor is an area where compute performance is put ahead of other factors. One Stop Systems (OSS) for its part offers a 1U PCIe expansion platform (Figure 1), designed specifically for the emerging computational accelerator market. The expansion platform supports either two double-slot graphical processing units (GPUs) or four single-slot GPUs. An internal system monitor surveys system parameters and reports status through an Ethernet port on the rear of the enclosure. The PCI Express interface delivers data transfers up to 80 Gbits/s to the host system through a host adapter that installs in the host computer’s PCIe x16 expansion slot. A 1-meter standardized PCIe x16 cable is included with the platform. While it can be installed up to 10 meters of its host system using the standard PCIe cable, greater distances from the host system can be accommodated using fiber optic solutions provided by OSS. Accelerator expansion systems are typically used in military comms centers, video imaging systems and simulation applications.

1U Rackmount Meets MicroTCA

A lot of military applications lend themselves to modular “building block” approaches that allow designers to scale and mix-and-match the functions they need. Performance Technologies brought that idea into the 1U rackmount space by implementing MicroTCA in a 1U format. It uses AMCs as modules just as traditional MicroTCA, but instead puts them in a 1U server card. The newest member of IPnexus MicroTCA systems, the AMP5071 (Figure 2), is designed for military system engineers developing IP-based communication products. The new AMP5071 enables engineers to begin systems faster, without all the time spent integrating disparate technologies from multiple vendors into a working prototype. The fully integrated system is ideal for applications such as WiMAX gateways, LTE infrastructure equipment, radar gateways, weather alert systems, enterprise VoIP/SIP servers and so on.

The AMP5071 comes integrated with a choice of processing Advanced Mezzanine Card (AMC). Developers can select an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, or a Freescale MPC8641D dual-core 1 GHz PowerPC processor. Additional AMC modules for I/O, storage and compute functions can be easily configured and integrated into the system in order to meet a wide range of IP-based communications design criteria.

Ruggedized 1U Solutions

Although the 1U form factor is most dominant in the IT industry, a number of vendors have implemented 1U solutions for rugged environments. Z Microsystems, along those lines, recently announced its ZX 1-2-3 Series of rugged computer servers (Figure 3) for military applications. Available in three slim-1U 1.70 inch, 2U 3.45 inch and 3U 5.15 inch-heights, the ZX 1-2-3 Series servers are compact and lightweight, saving rack space while delivering a flexible and high-performance solution for mission-ready applications.

The ZX 1-2-3 Series integrates the latest computing technology with a system architecture supporting any extended ATX form factor motherboard with support for up to 3, 6 or 12 rugged hot-pluggable TP2 removable drives, a slim line DVD-RW dual layer, and an environmental control board to support proper thermal regulation. Optimized for rugged conditions, the ZX 1-2-3 Series servers host PCI card hold-down brackets that secure cards in all three axis (X/Y/Z). In addition, the front panel provides a filtered dust door with a systems status display to quickly monitor the status of the rugged server. Dual redundant 650W power supplies ensure support for all multicore processors and high-end PCI Express graphics cards. The chassis are designed to meet MIL-STD-810G requirements for shock, vibration, humidity and high/low temperature.

Multicore 1U Processing

The multicore processing trend has swept across all areas of embedded computing, and the 1U server arena is no exception. An example is Themis Computer’s XR3 family of high-performance servers for mission-critical applications in harsh environments. These boards are the latest Intel Quad-Core Intel Xeon processors with the ruggedized design features of the Themis RES server family. The new RES-12XR3, RES-22XR3 and RES-32XR3 servers are offered in 1RU, 2RU and 3RU chassis. These new servers feature up to 144 Gbytes of RAM memory, up to eight lockable and removable drives, hot swappable fans and hard disk drives, single or redundant power supply options, and optional front panel filters for increased reliability in field deployments.

These systems combine the Quad-Core Intel Xeon 5500 series processors (Intel Nehalem Microarchitecture), with Themis’ advanced thermal and mechanical design techniques. The systems make extensive use of specially coated aluminum for light weight and corrosion resistance. Stainless steel is used in selected areas to add strength and stiffness. The systems feature operating shock rating of 3 axis, 25G, 20ms, and an operating vibration rating of 3.0 Grms, 8 Hz to 2000 Hz. Operating temperature range is 0 to 65°C, and humidity up to 90% non-condensing. Fans, power supplies and disk drives are all hot swappable.

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