The new COM Express Type 7 specification defines high-end server-on-modules that support multiple 10 GbE connections. The modules simplify and optimize the design of infrastructure equipment in rugged environments, in particular with regards to the specific size, weight and power restraints of these applications. As part of the COM Express ecosystem, embedded design and manufacturing providers complement this new standard with application-ready building blocks for dedicated carrier boards plus fast prototyping services.
There is an increased demand in many rugged application areas for low latency, high-bandwidth networks and equipment with 10 GbE support:
- Mobile broadcast equipment needs to process ever increasing video and sound resolutions
- Mobile data centers need to manage multiple mobile clients with highest data rates
- Small cells in 5G telecommunication networks have similar tasks
- CCTV video surveillance applications need to support face recognition and motion tracking
- Robotics gets collaborative through video recognition and deep learning
- Vehicles become autonomous by analyzing data from various high-res sources
- High-end radar, sonar, infrared and video sensors also produce massive payloads in many other situational awareness applications including nearly any modern defense equipment
All these systems must be capable to process multi-processor loads – sometimes even across multiple hosts and in meshed network environments, raising the bar from former 1 GbE network equipment to now 10 GbE, and all with real-time capabilities. Standard 19-inch rack servers are too large, too heavy, and too power hungry for these applications. OEM equipment used in these areas also needs to be more ruggedized to withstand harsh environmental conditions including EMI, shock and vibrations, extreme temperatures and fluctuations, and high humidity. It also needs to be dedicated to the applications. This means that a perfectly tailored shape and feature set is required. Systems must be rid of all unnecessary components and avoid additional external adapters or converters, so they can fulfill their tasks most efficiently and become a single and easy to handle field replaceable unit.
Application ready super components for dedicated servers
To address these demands, the PICMG established the new COM Express Type 7 specification for server-on-modules. Modules based on this new standard for customized rugged servers and network equipment – including rugged cloud, edge, and fog servers – enable highly flexible designs and make the customization of individual designs far less time consuming, as they deliver an application-ready computing core in a standardized form factor that is vendor independent. By utilizing COM Express Type 7 server-on-modules, engineers can also immediately upgrade their designs with the latest processor technology by a simple module change. The customization of interfaces is executed on the modules’ carrier board. Admittedly, in most cases this requires a custom specific carrier board with corresponding NRE costs. But such PCB designs are far less complex than building a fully customized server board with all the required logic implementation that comes with modules as an off-the-shelf service.
The logic provided with server-on-modules is extensive. Bear in mind that even though the processor vendor provides a comprehensive set of server grade remote management capabilities with its semiconductors, a dedicated board management controller (BMC) is usually also required on the carrier board, for example to support out-of-band remote management. For most OEMs, it is not justifiable to spend much effort to additionally collect the IP from the other semiconductor components to integrate out-of-band management capabilities such as IPMI, MCTP, or whichever protocol is demanded by the particular application.
Besides, implementing remote management is not the only task OEMs are facing. They also need to build the entire, perfectly tailored board support package, including the capability to manage a standardized API on a board controller so that applications can be scaled most efficiently from one hardware platform to the next generation. Thus, any high-end rugged server and 10 GbE network equipment that needs a dedicated feature set to optimize the size, weight, power, and cost (aka SWAP-C) demands is best served with application ready super components like server-on-modules, which are the ideal starting point for industrial-grade OEM custom designs.
The carrier board becomes the design challenge
But simply having such server-on-modules is not enough, as most equipment providers for 10 GbE infrastructures don’t want to have anything to do with the carrier board design which is required for the customization of the hardware. They have to tackle even more challenging engineering tasks to manage the ever increasing demands in this high-end area of rugged computing. As a consequence, they want to spend as little time as possible on the hardware and instead focus on the customer solution. In most cases, they are looking for a platform provider who is able to deliver the dedicated carrier board and system design requiring as little additional design effort as possible. The reasoning behind this approach is not only to save NRE costs. It is also influenced by the increased demand for design security, as the more application ready building blocks a vendor can provide off-the-shelf, the more functions are already proven and tested in the fields.
Companies providing embedded design and manufacturing services for server-on-modules are consequently most convincing if nearly all the required building blocks are already running in the field. A key reference point in the early stage of design considerations is the availability of an evaluation carrier board for COM Express Type 7 or off-the-shelf available carrier boards that are ready for field deployment.
One example is the COM Express Type 7 carrier board from Connect Tech (Figures 1-5) that supports the extended temperature range (-40°C to +85°C) and includes 2x 10G Ethernet from SFP+ modules, 2x GbE ports, M.2 NVMe storage, 4x USB 3.0, full and half size Mini PCIe expansion slots, 8x 3.3V buffered GPIO, and a console connection via Micro USB. Such a design is application-ready and can be ordered off the shelf to be equipped, for example, with the latest Intel Xeon D processor based server-on-modules for the high-end, or with modules based on the Atom C3000 processor family. The platform is highly innovative for the embedded server sector, setting a new benchmark for smallest rugged server designs. With a footprint that measures only 125mm x 95mm, the platform is exactly the same size as the server-on-modules. This makes it possible to build a fully-fledged rugged server including cooling solution that is smaller than two stacked 3.5-inch hard drives. Such a high-density package could fit literally everywhere. To understand how impressive this is, one needs to recap that the Intel Xeon D processor features up to 16 cores for 32 threads and can support up to 48 gigabytes of fast 2400 DDR4 memory. server-on-modules based on that processor support 2x 10 GbE plus up to 24 PCI Express Gen 3.0 lanes and 8x PCIe Gen 2.0 lanes. All these capabilities can now fit into a small package.
Customers trust proven features most
If a company can complement such an offering with a comprehensive list of custom specific carrier board design features successfully engineered and deployed for various OEMs, customers can pick the required functionalities without qualms and have them implemented into their own requirement specifications. First samples of the new COM Express Type 7 design can easily be delivered within 6-12 weeks to the OEM if the service provider has own manufacturing capabilities. For fast implementation as well as highest design security, ODMs that follow the COM Express carrier board design rules specified in the PICMG Design Guides ensure that such boards can get deployed with any COM Express Type 7 server-on-module.
Original design and manufacturing service provider Connect Tech is a model example of companies in that business as they are focused on providing exactly those off-the-shelf and custom carrier boards for various module standards including the brand new COM Express Type 7 specification. Up to now, they have built hundreds of carrier boards, which makes them a major contributor to the COM Express ecosystem. Their expertise lies not only in the customer specific design of all standard interfaces provided by the module, but also in the support of various other on-board interfaces and implementations, including FPGA designs for digital signal processing. The company also offers in-depth expertise in parallel processing solutions on the basis of CUDA and OpenCL, using a General Purpose Graphics Processing Unit (GPGPU) for parallel computing and latest machine learning environments. As far as the earlier discussed out-of-band management demands for servers are concerned, their design expertise in this area can also help provide one of the most demanded building blocks for server grade carrier boards which makes any standard designs more complex. Let’s be clear: Designing a carrier board for server-on-modules is not a job for anybody who can design a carrier board for computer-on-modules. It’s a skill that also requires dedicated server-grade hardware design expertise, especially in regards to high-speed signal lane routing.
[Figure 1 | Measuring only 125mm x 95mm, the Connect Tech COM Express Type 7 carrier board is as small as congatec’s server-on-modules, enabling server designs smaller than two stacked 3.5-inch hard drives.]
[Figure 2 | All congatec server-on-modules based on Intel Atom C3000, Xeon D and Pentium processors are qualified to operate perfectly with Connect Tech’s COM Express Type 7 carrier board.]
[Figure 3 | The congatec cooling solutions for their COM Express Type 7 server-on-modules make it easy to swap modules within the same TDP range as they all have the same footprint even if the boards have a different silhouette.]
[Figure 4 | The Connect Tech pool of application-ready building blocks for customer specific carrier boards is comprehensive and accelerates dedicated carrier board designs to approximately 6-12 weeks with lowest NRE costs.]
[Figure 5 | Block diagram of the Connect Tech carrier board for COM Express Type. The carrier board can be used for any other rugged server design based on COM Express Type 7 modules from congatec.]
[Figure 6 |The Connect Tech enclosure design is an inspiring starting point for any COM Express Type 7 system design used in harshest in-vehicle environments.]