If you have a need for a rugged server, it usually means that you have a unique project with very specific requirements. Choosing an incorrect server can hinder development and even result in a failed product. Regardless of whether the server was made by Spartan, Crystal Rugged, Trenton, Themis or any other manufacturer, you should note each criterion and make a decision that would suit your project best.
“The first thing to consider is the environment for your project,” says Yaron Mintzker, Product Manager at Spartan Rugged. “Rugged servers can face widely different condition depending on their environment. A server that would be installed on a ship will meet different conditions than one that’s mounted on a helicopter, which will be different than the conditions on a tactical vehicle, and so on.”
Since rugged servers are designed to deal with extremes, it is important to understand the conditions in which they will operate before making the choice of server. Will it need to block dust from clogging its inner mechanisms? Will it require to have a cold start at sub-zero temperatures? How about movement and shocks?
Another issue when it comes to environment is electromagnetic interference. Servers are installed along with other electronics and should be able to function despite any EMI/RFI disturbances.
Your server should be made for the long run. Longevity is incredibly important. You need a server that can stay functional throughout the project’s lifecycle and can run your application for a very long time.
No computer is judged solely by what’s outside, and so now we must look within. Having a server with computing power that can’t handle the demands of the project is a recipe for failure. For rugged servers, you might find that the computing unit may have similar names, with Intel Xeon series being the popular choice, but the number of the cores may differ. A server with a CPU of 28 cores is considered very powerful, and therefore that is the current benchmark for power.
Memory is another subject that would require your attention. The current industry standard calls for DDR4 RAM. The amount of memory your server has will have a significant impact on its performance.
The interface for the server is another important aspect. “Many projects now demand at least four channels of communication,” says Mintzker. “Often, some of these channels will be required to handle an extremely high volume of data, so the interface needs to be able to support that. The existence of Serial channels and USB should not be overlooked as well. Make sure the server can handle a USB 3 channel for fast data delivery.”
Storage is yet another element to consider when choosing a server. The number of bytes of data the server can store can be critical to some projects. In addition, note that the server enables the use of RAID, both at the software and the hardware level.
Your chosen server should have a management interface that is easy to use, which will enable faster set-up and make troubleshooting less painful.
PCIe expansion cards are now a common part of many projects, and therefore you should make sure the server you choose has enough slots to allow for all the cards you’ll need, be they a GPU, a network card or anything else.
Moving back outside, you should also note the issue of power supply, and the requirement it brings. “Depending on where the project is deployed, you might need a server that can connect directly to an AC outlet, and different industries often have different standards when it comes to voltages,” says Mintzker. “Some servers are compatible will any form of power supply, and if you require that variety, you should look for one. You should also consider the need for redundant power supply, which will allow you to set up emergency backup in case the main power source fails.”
Servers can also come in different sizes. The standard equipment will often have a width of 19″, and a high of 1 RU or 2 RU, but the depth demands for rugged servers can change from project to project. Often a rugged server will need to be shorter to fit in with the rest of the equipment.
Quality assurance and standardization are critical. Rugged servers are often part of equipment that has lives depending on it, so it is important that they’ll meet the standard of an unbiased third party, such as the AS9100-D standard for aerospace industry, or the equivalent for other industries. Certifications can give you the peace of mind that the server you purchased is capable of all that it advertises.
Support from the manufacturer can make the difference for a server. A reliable company should be able to offer support for any issues that might arise. You should also give thought to the manufacturer’s flexibility when it comes to modification and customization of the product, to meet your particular needs.
Finally, you should consider the price. There is quite a bit of competition in the field of servers, but you should also give some thought to the possibility of developing your server in-house.
“Servers, as an expensive and delicate piece of equipment, naturally have many characteristics that need attention when purchased,” concludes Mintzker. “Failing to take every criterion into consideration can lead to problems down the line.” The above list should guide your search for a server, and help clarify the decision-making process. That way, you can be sure the server you have is the best fit for your project.