Re-engineering computers for extreme environments

Jake MacWhirter

Re-engineering commercial computers for extreme environments

Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer solutions are often deployed within a programme to leverage cost and performance benefits.

However, defence and security applications’ requirements differ from end-user and enterprise computing in many ways.

For example, ruggedisation may be needed to protect the unit in extreme environments and specialist connectors are required to interface with military equipment.

A shift in commercial computing 

Something quite interesting is happening in the enterprise, OEM and consumer computing markets. And it is going largely unnoticed.

Commercial electronic components are evolving and becoming less susceptible to thermal changes, therefore becoming much more robust and increasingly capable of being used outside the ‘manufacturer’s typical intended applications.

COTS computers are starting to use high quality extended temperature components to enable overclocking, and in doing so, are becoming more suitable for other more challenging industries and applications.

At the same time, enterprise solutions are being designed with longer service lives, so manufacturers can now provide extended warranty options to customers.

Data centre users are pressurising manufacturers to use extended temperature components too, allowing the centre to run at a higher and more cost-effective thermal range, thus reducing cooling costs.

SSD (solid state drive) technology is maturing and becoming more reliable in comparison to its challenges of the past, and processing power continues to increase, and requires less energy and space.

 

Now, all of these upgrades are very important and certainly support the use of commercial computers being used in specialist environments, however, additional modifications and engineering is often required and should always be considered.

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Using Commercial Off-The-Shelf computers (COTS)

There is undoubtedly a place for COTS hardware and computing in challenging environments, however, for an increasingly large number of applications, demands to operate COTS equipment in harsh environments were not part of the original ‘manufacturer’s design intent.

And this can cause various problems, resulting from:

  • Overheating
  • Shock
  • Vibration
  • Liquid spillage
  • Dust
  • Environmental changes

So, what is the solution?

The most successful solutions is to take quality commercial computing, which is already proven to perform well, and add on extra ruggedisation and protection to bridge the albeit narrowed gap between technology and the application requirements.

Significant upgrades to COTS computers and associated networking hardware could include:

  • Specialised mounting systems
  • Protection provided by rehousing into robust enclosures
  • Engineered for isolation and shock protection
  • Professional electro-mechanical assembly suited to the end application
  • Tested and certified for compliance
  • Upgraded components for longevity

These solutions can enable the successful use of COTS equipment.

The benefits are projects delivered on time, in budget, and exact specifications to meet the performance levels required.

shock-testing-equipment

Shock testing equipment

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Heat testing chamber

Long term planning for long term gain

If improper considerations are given to the hardware selection and any necessary modifications, there is a real risk of unexpected or accelerated failures.

Inevitably, this will lead to an escalation in the total cost of ownership and a poor user experience.

It is vital to think of the long term plan when sourcing computers for your specialist applications.

To learn more about Captec’s engineer computers for defence please visit our defence computing web page.

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