Remote management and maintenance of Intel® Architecture (IA)-based systems has been extremely important in the general computing world for two decades as centralized IT departments manage thousands of deployed clients. Many embedded applications today have similar requirements. Moreover in the embedded space, the deployed clients may range from power-efficient Intel® Atom™ systems to others based on the latest 3rd-generation Intel® Core™ processors, previously codenamed Ivy Bridge. The management challenge in the embedded space is arguably tougher than in the IT space but initiatives such as Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT) and Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT); and technology from members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance can enable robust remote-management implementations.
For an example of where remote management is absolutely a required technology, consider digital signage. Sign owners need to manage thousands of client signs with the ability to handle service issues such as an operating system update without a truck roll. Indeed such systems require what is called out-of-band (OOB) implementations that don't rely on the client operating system. For example and OOB implementation could freshly install a new operating system and application stack remotely.
The Intel® Core™ vPro™ processors including all of the Core-branded products include Intel AMT support for OOB management. Intel AMT relies on a dedicated management processor implemented in a support chip such as the PCH (Platform Controller Hub). The processor is completely independent of the IA processor and host operating system.
Still the breadth of IA processors used in an application such as signage inevitably results in situations in which not every processor is enabled with AMT support. For example, the Atom processor platforms don't include AMT. Fortunately there are other approaches to remote management.
Intel VT, for example, can enable what has been called pseudo-out-of-band management. A number of companies including Green Hills Software1 and Wind River Systems2 support Intel VT and the ability to virtualize a secure operating-system partition separately from the partition that host the general-purpose operating system and application. The companies offer hypervisors to work with the Intel VT features in the processor to effectively isolate mission-critical tasks such as remote management.
Intel wrote an article called "Manageability for the 'Internet of Things'" that covers the need for remote management in embedded applications. That article addresses both the OOB and pseudo-OOB concepts and the need for compliance with standards including DASH (Desktop and Mobile Architecture for System Hardware) and DMTF (Desktop Management Taskforce).
American Megatrends Inc (AMI)3 has developed a suite of embedded-centric software modules that directly enable both OOB and pseudo-OOB features in systems that span the full IA range. The company is using its MegaRAC XMS product, that it calls a Centralized Collaborative Management Console, as the basis for embedded applications. MegaRAC has been broadly deployed in IT-centric applications.
MegaRAC supports a broad range of remote-management technologies that are implemented at the client level. For example it can support Intel AMT clients and clients that rely on the IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) standard. AMI refers to the structure of MegaRAC XMS as a framework. And the company uses plug-in software modules to support the various client-level remote-management implementations such as AMT.
Beyond AMT and IPMI, MegaRAC XMS can handle a broad set of management functions. There is a specific module for operating-system management that works with Windows and Linux. There is a power-management module that works with servers and power distribution units. There is a VMWare module designed to support virtualized general-purpose operating systems, and another for Microsoft Hyper-V virtual servers. Other modules support asset management and inventory. Indeed AMI targets the product at the broad issue of IT management of which remote management is a part.
Two new client-side software modules called MegaRAC ESP (Embedded Service Processor) and MegaRAC vSP (virtual Service Processor) specifically target embedded applications. MegaRAC ESP provides a comprehensive OOB remote-management implementation. The ESP software requires a dedicated IC, called a BMC (baseboard management controller), on the client.
But AMI realizes that in embedded applications cost, power, and footprint requirements may result in many systems that don't include a BMC, yet that need remote-management capabilities. The company offers MegaRAC vSP for just such products, and the software is implemented as a hypervisor and is a pseudo-OOB implementation. It can run on any processor that supports Intel VT including Intel Core and Atom, and other IA processors.
AMI also offers a digital-signage-specific version of its console called MegaRAC/CAST (Cloud Aware Signage Technology). The CAST software works with a full range of client-side technologies including Intel AMT, MegaRAC ESP, and MegaRAC vSP. The CAST package includes all of the expected remote-and IT-management capabilities of MegaRAC XMS along with content management.
Have you encountered the need to manage a large number of embedded systems remotely? Have you been challenged with supporting a broad range of client architectures? If not you probably will with the expected continued explosion of the Internet of things. Please share your thoughts and experience with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community via comments.
To view other community content focused on remote management, see "Manageability – Top Picks."
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)
Intel® Embedded Alliance
1. Green Hills Software is an Affiliate member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance
2. Wind River Systems is an Associate member of the Alliance
3. American Megatrends Inc (AMI) is an Affiliate member of the Alliance