Sponsored content by congatec AG
The Edge of the Future: Modular Edge Computing
Industrial edge servers should be advanced enough to be able to successfully handle a broad array of tasks. In the 21rst century, virtual machines are being relied on more and more for consolidating different kinds of Industry 4.0 workloads. Moreover, because Computer-on-Modules offer the flexibility needed to scale the computing power of each application, users always end with the best of both worlds: a fair price and optimal performance.
In the past, workload consolidation was principally accomplished vis-à-vis data center server virtualization. However, demand these days is rapidly shifting towards the rough industrial edge as users are increasingly utilizing edge servers for virtualizing their Industry 4.0 applications like machine manufacturers, system manufacturers, and industrial end users. This is largely happening as a result of an innovative change in strategy: Rather than allocating various tasks to numerous dedicated systems, edge servers are now being relied on as they are very efficient at consolidating the distribution applications and controls across a manufacturing cell, thereby enhancing the computing performance and cutting costs. However, the impact of industrial edge server technology is not only limited to a noticeable decrease in system costs as it also results in less maintenance and administration efforts. Simply put, when workload consolidation occurs on edge and fog servers, the applications also become more reliable and fail-safe since less distributed systems means a substantially decreased likelihood of failure. To achieve this end, original equipment manufacturers need to design a modular and robust real-time capable hardware platform based on hypervisor technology to complement each particular application. Extremely versatile and application-specific edge and fog servers can then be developed with ease. Furthermore, because a powerful and advanced hypervisor can operate on any edge server platform, OEMs can rely on modular hardware to find the preferred (application-specific) balance between price and performance. This process can then become a standard plan of action for other edge systems, from the smallest of gateways to the largest of industrial rack mount servers. The LoRa Gateway The LoRa gateway designed by Expemb is an excellent example of an edge server from the low power segment. The server is compatible with different types of LoRa applications and applies a comprehensive range of edge logic. For instance, LoRa can be used in factory settings by connecting smart loT sensors or track load carriers to help document and improve the flow of goods. Since it consists of Qseven Computer-on-Modules with Intel Atom processors, the gateway provides an adjustable hardware setup that can be fine-tuned with ease at the hardware and software level, to cater to the diverse technical needs of LoRa-based loT applications. In addition, due to their unique design and small proportions, Qseven Computer-on-Modules are considered as flexible tools that enhance both x86 and Arm technology. All this makes the process of achieving a balance between price and performance & load seem straightforward and smooth. State-of-the-art Edge Servers Designs Edge servers that are boxed are highly advantageous for many reasons. First and foremost, the servers are very flexible, customizable, and work well with numerous types of different applications. Moreover, there are several models you can choose from based on just how cost-effective (ex: Intel Atom) or powerful (ex: Xeon) you need your server to be. For instance, China has recently developed, in collaboration with Tencent’s loT partner, a distributed smart grid management system for the energy market. This type of edge server design should be able to handle power generators and consumers in factories and industrial parks. Additionally, because the base is heterogenous, the design of the hardware is modular as well. For this reason, in such cases, COM Express Computer-on-Modules are often used. With high performance requirements the application leverages powerful COM Express Type 7 Server-on-Modules. These modules offer 16 core, 32 thread Intel® Xeon® D15xx processors; however, if other configurations are required then Intel® Atom® C3xxx processors can be used instead. The Benefits of Modular Rack Servers The exceptionally powerful modular rack servers are what truly characterize the top edge as being ‘unique’. Christmann, for example, is one of many suppliers working on multiprocessor servers using a modular design with multiple COM Express Type 7 Server-on-Modules being directly integrated in in the design of the servers. Furthermore, Christmann also has plans to release new designs in the near future based on the existing COM-HPC module standard. Not only are these servers custom-engineered for a particular task, but they are also very flexible and can be easily adjusted whenever new performance upgrades or emerging technologies surface. Indeed, given the accelerated speed at which technology is advancing, a second generation of servers is expected to be installed in three to five years. With the modular approach Christmann chose only the processor module would need replacing, the price of the upgrade is calculated at being almost half of what it would normally cost to replace the conventional board-based servers. Accordingly, Christmann capitalizes on the TCO savings by including up to 27 CPU microservers in the rackmount servers. Thus, the three examples listed above clearly show how beneficial Computer-on-Modules and Server-on-Modules can be with regards to edge gateways and edge servers. Real-time Intel Certified RFP Kits for Workload Consolidation That said, for the successful creation of a development platform for modular edge servers, more software support is needed. For this reason, congatec collaborated with Intel and Real-Time Systems, and in June 2020 the partnership resulted in an Intel Certified RFP (Ready for Production) kit for consolidating workloads. This kit targets the next generation of image-based collaborative robotics and automation controllers, in addition to autonomous vehicles requiring multitasking computing performance. The solution-ready platform comprises a COM Express Type 6 module with Intel® Xeon® E2 processor and is set up with three pre-configured virtual machines. All this showcases its processing prowess since the platform can reboot a system application while the real-time application is still able to run, undisturbed, on a separate virtual machine. Nonetheless, to guarantee that the platform is future-ready and has the ability to successfully support workload consolidation, it also caters to all the diverse needs essential for flexible connectivity, through custom-tailored carrier board designs. TSN Support Offered The kit is engineered to support TSN–Time Sensitive Networking. An important feature especially since 5G technologies and 10+ GbE networks surfaced and shed light on the importance of carrying out real time processing in tactile internet environments. TSN technology encompasses numerous standards like TAS–Time Aware Shaping– (IEEE802.1Qbv), virtual LANs over Ethernet (IEEE 802.1q), and real-time synchronization using PTP–Precision Time Protocol– (IEEE 1588). After a master sets the time, PTP initiates the synchronization taking place between nodes. Each slave’s clock has the ability to attain an extremely specific two-digit nanosecond synchronization, and issue out time-stamped packets. PTP networks then also synchronize themselves with the same accuracy as their IP packets make a significantly positive impact on the functionality of an application. For instance, when the i219 Intel Ethernet interface is used, clock synchronization becomes entirely dependent on this standard component and no supplementary dedicated hardware items or proprietary applications are needed. Author: Zeljko Loncaric, Marketing Engineer at congatec Caption 1: Real-time hypervisor support ensures a fair price and optimal performance & loading, facilitated by fully modular edge and fog servers that are designed by Server-on Modules. Caption 2: Many manufacturers currently provide a number of advanced modular edge server systems like small LoRa gateways, industrial rack servers, and smart grid edger servers. Caption 3: The congatec real-time workload consolidation starter kit consists of a COM Express Type 6 module and includes an Intel® Xeon® E2 processor along with the Hypervisor of Real-Time Systems. (Copyright ©Intel) Caption 4: Workload consolidation and time-sensitive networking complement each other, allowing the real-time control over standard Ethernet networks in addition to the tactile Internet sessions over real-time 5G. www.congatec.com.
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