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Rackmount Systems Move Toward Converged Solutions

Rackmount systems are moving from simple bladed compute platforms to complete converged solutions that mix high levels of computing, storage and networking.


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While one end of the spectrum of military system design focuses on compact size and mobility, there's another where it's all about compute density and scalability. The latter is where rackmount systems shine. Blade server based computing solutions and other rackmount systems are well suited for military applications ranging from satellite control to vehicle based C4ISR gear to shipboard comms and networking platforms. Naval platforms need such technology to increase their levels of automation aboard ships (Figure 1). With complete server-level computers now easily available in a 1U blade, developers can pack a lot of computing in a convenient rack-based space alongside an off-the-shelf 1U network router and advanced communications boards. That means network routers, specialized encryption systems, precision timing boards and so on. A more recent trend in rackmount systems is where all the storage and networking are integrated into the same system as the computing blades.

Figure 1
A rackmount system shown here waiting for installation on the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) as part of the ship’s CANES implementation.

Meanwhile the processing levels used are lifting rackmount systems in many cases into the High Performance Embedded Computing (HPEC) space. Like an HPEC system, there's a ranged of what the industry defines as HPEC. Everything to highly dense arrays of GPGPU to data-center level of computing based on server-class Xeon processors and all their support electronics. There's also a focus computing virtualization as key for HPEC platforms so that software programs function can massively parallel multiprocessing systems as if they're on a single processor.

In contrast to backplane-based architectures like VME or CompactPCI, rackmount systems are bus-less and typically use Ethernet or other cable-based technology to link boards with one another. Eliminating the backplane also significantly reduces overall system weight. This approach has become popular in military comms gear in vehicles or aircraft where every pound of weight is precious.

Other twist on rackmount systems in recent years is the focus on cable-based interfacing such at PCI Express-Over-Cable and Ethernet. 10 Gbit Ethernet is becoming entrenched as a favorite data plane interconnect fabric in compute-intensive applications like sonar, radar or any application that networks sensor arrays together. But PCI Express has inherent advantages that make it better for control functions than Ethernet. Almost 10 years ago the PCI-SIG approved the PCI Express External Cabling Specification that defines PCI Express implemented over a standard cable. It enables the full bandwidth of the PCIe bus to be achieved within multiple chassis systems and small local networks.

The Rackmount Systems Roundup and Links to the full data sheets for each product are posted on the roundup part of this section. Click here for the roundup.