When a newcomer takes a first look at using an Intel® Architecture (IA) microprocessor for an embedded application, the allure may be the raw performance that IA is known for in the general computing space. But embedded design teams quickly learn that the sum is greater than the parts in terms of the hardware and software technologies that comprise the IA portfolio and that truly maximizes system-level performance and affords mission-critical reliability. Intel technologies such as Intel® Rapid Storage Technology (RST) and Intel® Active Management Technology (AMT) can prove vital to application in the military and aerospace segment as well in mission-critical medical and industrial applications. Moreover support for industry standard technologies such as Trusted Platform Module (TPM) adds a security and reliability layer.

 

Many of the technologies that add to the system-level robustness of IA-based systems aren’t new. They’ve been around for years and have been fully tested and utilized in both general computing and embedded systems. But embedded design teams coming to IA from other architectures may not have experience with the broad IA portfolio of technologies that extend beyond microprocessors and core-logic chipsets. So let’s examine some key technologies for mission-critical systems.

 

RST is Intel’s approach to RAID (Redundant Arrays of Independent Disks) technology in which an array of disk drives is used to boost system-level I/O performance and/or add reliability via redundancy. The Intel RST web page notes that the technology includes support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10. RAID 1, 5, and 10 all add fault tolerance by storing data seamlessly on multiple disk drives so that systems can operate through a drive failure. RAID 0 boosts performance by striping data across multiple drives thereby increasing the effective data rate of read and write operations.

 

AMT allows remote management of compute resources. Such capabilities can be especially vital in military and industrial applications where computer hardware is installed geographically away from where the technical team is based that maintains and updates the embedded system. AMT allows remote troubleshooting, allowing the technical team to isolate problems and restore system functionality even after OS failures. Moreover the technical team can update system functionality remotely.

 

TPM, meanwhile is an industry initiative for cryptographic security that is supported within the IA technology portfolio and widely used by companies that build embedded-targeted boards and systems based on IA processors. TPM technology is promulgated by the Trusted Computing Group of which Intel is a founder. At first glance, TPM may seem overly IT centric and focused at applications such as financial, but a variety of embedded mission-critical applications use TPM as well. The TPM concept relies on an IC that includes a cryptographic key hardwired in the device that can ensure platform authentication.

 

Embedded design teams can develop systems using these mission-critical technologies via modular and system-level products offered by numerous members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. The products range from fully populated servers to single-board computers (SBCs), or computer-on-module products.

 

Kontron*, for example, recently introduced a new ruggedized server that primarily targets industrial applications but that can also be used in military and medical applications. The KISS 4U Q57 is the latest member of the company’s KISS (Kontron Industrial Silent Server) family and ships with a choice of Intel® Core™ i3, i5, or i7 processors and the Intel® Q57 Express Chipset.

 

Kontron_KISS.jpg

 

The new server supports AMT 6.0 for remote monitoring of system health. Kontron adds its own PCCM (PC Condition Monitoring System) software on top of the AMT technology to augment remote-monitoring features. The server integrates a TPM 1.2 IC. Moreover, the system includes six SATA interfaces and bays for as many as five internal disk drives. The design supports RST and RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 configurations.

 

The standard KISS enclosure is rated to meet NEMA IP20 level for protection of the internal electronics. IP20 is a low level of protection that primarily means that fingers can’t reach the inside of the enclosure. Optionally, embedded teams can specify IP52 protection. IP52 implies an enclosure that limits the ingress of dust and is resistant to dripping water. IP52 protection is satisfactory for some military applications as well as industrial and embedded applications.

 

Design teams looking for a single-board computer for mission-critical applications might consider the NuPRO-E330 from Adlink Technology**.  The SBC is packaged in the PICMG 1.3 form factor for full-size PCI-Express (PCIe) based boards. Like the Kontron server, the Adlink SBC offers a choice of i3, i5, and i7 processors and the Q57 chipset. The platform includes both AMT 6.0 and RST technology. Moreover, Adlink offers additional options such as the mPCI3-8770 Mini PCI Express graphics card.

For design teams that are using computer-on-module (COM) schemes, a number of companies offer COM Express modules with a full complement of IA technologies. For instance, Radisys*** recently introduced the Procelerant CEQM67 module based on an i7 processor and the Intel® Q67 Express Chipset. That module supports AMT 6.0 and TPM.

 

Today, we’ve only covered a few of the technologies that comprise the full IA portfolio. You might want to also consider the potential of technologies such as Intel® Virtualization Technology, Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology, Intel® Turbo Boost Technology, and others. In aggregate these technologies boost the IA value proposition for embedded designs.

How have you used AMT, RST or other IA technologies to boost performance and/or reliability in an embedded system. Fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community would like to see you comment on your experiences. Which IA technology has proven most useful in mission-critical applications and why was it so valuable?

 

Maury Wright

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance

 

*Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance

** Adlink Technology is an Associate member of the Alliance

*** Radisys is a Premier member of the Alliance