Embedded control systems drive the critical and complex industrial machinery necessary to turn raw materials into finished goods in a factory environment. These systems must be designed for maximum reliability in order to avoid the high costs and lengthy delays involved with a production line shutdown, repair, and restart. To extend the uptime of these systems, designers have traditionally employed redundant hardware such as sensors and actuators that can be automatically substituted in the event of a failure. As factory control systems combine functionality and increase complexity to speed operation and lower overheads, designers are now employing similar measures to respond to and correct software malfunctions. To simplify this failover process and to extend the availability of industrial applications, Intel has developed a number of technologies built directly into the latest generation processor architecture.
Intel® vPro™ Technology includes hardware support for remote management, virtualization, and platform security functions that can be used to extend the uptime of industrial embedded systems. For example, Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT) increases system performance and reliability with hardware support for virtualization software to simplify the transfer of data and control between virtual operating systems. If a system becomes disabled due to a software or operating system failure, a virtual backup can automatically take control and start execution without user intervention. Virtualization can also be used for hardware substitution by invoking a virtual layer that uses a modified set of I/O devices. Intel® VT improves the performance of software-based virtualization operations by using hardware-assist to allocate memory and I/O devices to specific partitions to decrease the processor load and reduce virtual machine switching times.
Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT) is another Intel® vPro element that delivers certificate-based security allowing remote access to the embedded system for management and security tasks even when the system is powered off. This technology gives device support personnel a low cost technique to monitor operation, perform diagnostics, deliver product training, and manage required software updates from a remote location. In the event of a software failure, Intel® AMT enables a remote boot from an external operating system image over the network even if the system kernel has been completely corrupted. Most of this reboot process can be done with automated scripting and little human interaction which can significantly lower system downtime. Intel® AMT can also be used manually to insert redundant systems to maintain uninterrupted production while support teams perform required preventative maintenance on mechanical systems.
Several Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance members offer off-the-shelf, board-level products supporting Intel® vPro and Intel® AMT Technology that designers can use to develop high-reliability systems for industrial applications. For example, The NORCO MITX-6922 motherboard supports the 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ processor architecture and targets industrial automation systems along with digital signage, retail, and transportation applications (See figure 1). The board features up to 8GB of DDR3 SO-DIMM RAM, six COM ports, eight USB 2.0 connectors, High Definition Audio, two Gigabit LAN ports, plus four and sixteen lane PCI-Express connections. The board offers multiple display options including VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, LVDS video outputs and supports dual independent displays. In addition, the video output is complemented by three audio jacks. As well as Intel® vPro and Intel® AMT 8.0, the board also features Intel® Turbo Boost and Intel® Rapid Storage Technology.
The high performance Intel® Xeon® processor E3 architecture also features Intel® vPro and Intel® AMT technologies to support the extended availability requirements of industrial applications. Taking advantage of a 15% CPU performance increase and lower power consumption than the previous generation, DFI-ITOX recently introduced the CL630-CRM ATX motherboard based on the Intel® Xeon® Processor E3-1200v2 Family (See figure 2). As you can see in the block diagram, the ATX board supports the new Intel® C216 Express chipset with a large selection of I/O features to simplify system designs supporting redundant hardware. The CL630-CRM also features the integrated Intel® HD Graphics 4000 engine delivering up to 50% 3D graphics performance improvement with high definition images presented simultaneously to three independent displays. . Performance is further increased through the introduction of Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) to the instruction set, providing acceleration of complex audio, video, and image processing.
A key strategy for building reliable systems in industrial applications is to eliminate single points of failure. By adding redundant hardware and software for critical functions, designers can provide systems that greatly improve the uptime statistics in critical production settings. If you think that Intel® vPro and Intel® AMT technologies can improve performance of your industrial project please share your concerns, questions, and successes with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community. You can also keep up with the latest technical articles and product announcements at the Embedded Computing Design archives on Intel vPro AMT.
To learn more about the design of industrial systems, see “Top Picks – Industrial”
DFI-ITOX and NORCO are Associate members of the by Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.