High-performance computing: It's got to be rugged

BY Simon Collins

Courtney Howard’s article in the July 2011 print issue of Military & Aerospace Electronics entitled “Harnessing high-performance computing” was further proof that, for developers of embedded systems for military and aerospace applications, high-performance computing (HPC) is a hot topic. That’s no surprise: Military and aerospace applications have long been voracious devourers of as much computing capability as they can find.

HPC in the commercial world is already well established, and its purveyors are learning to extract maximum advantage from many-core and multicore processors, as well as multiprocessor blades in application environments where a high degree of potential parallelism exists. The very highest performance computers in the world use clusters of thousands of the latest multicore CPUs (central processing units) from Intel along with thousands of Nvidia’s many-core GPUs (graphics processing units), often tightly coupled via InfiniBand and 10 Gigabit Ethernet remote DMA-enabled (RDMA) switched fabric networks with robust, high-performance driver support under Linux and Windows operating systems.

Commercial interest and appli- cation is also driving the development of an extensive infrastructure and ecosystem of supporting hardware, software, and middleware, reducing the need to develop complex, expensive proprietary solutions and further enhancing the attraction of HPC.

For military and aerospace developers, it’s all good news. Not only is the massive investment in HPC in the commercial world driving technology and performance developments at a spectacular rate (an example is the work being done by Nvidia and Mellanox on “GPU Direct,” a development that will greatly improve GPGPU, or general-purpose GPU, performance), but also it is doing so using the COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) principles that have become fundamental to embedded computing in military applications. The military and aerospace world is taking advantage of those developments.

Attracting substantial attention is GPGPU technology—applying the inherent massively parallel architecture of graphics processors to general-purpose computing tasks. GE was among the first to bring commercial, rugged GPGPU-enabled solutions to the market with the announcement in November 2009 of the GRA111 high-performance graphics board, following the signing of a unique, strategic agreement with Nvidia, the market leader in GPU technology, two months previous. The agreement gives GE not only direct access to silicon, but also the knowledge necessary to implement it appropriately for military and aerospace applications, as well as insight into Nvidia’s roadmap.

While commercial applications and military and aerospace applications have the same hunger for processing performance, their requirements are divergent when it comes to deployment. There is, of course, a world of difference between an air-conditioned data center and a military land vehicle when it comes to power consumption, heat dissipation, resistance to shock, vibration, and extremes of temperature, and so on. And when it comes to GPU technology, there is a similar world of difference between what a GT240 can be subjected to in a laptop and what it can be subjected to in an unmanned aerial vehicle.

In a laptop, the GPU will typically be configured via an MXM (Mobile PCI Express Module). This is akin to what a military and aerospace systems designer would probably think of as a PMC or XMC: a discrete printed circuit board—containing some specific functionality—that is mounted on a host board, rather than the functionality being integrated directly on the host board itself. In the case of laptops, the rationale for this approach is simple to understand: it allows manufacturers to implement alternative GPUs, or new generations of a GPU, without having to redesign the host board.

That’s not an approach, though, that lends itself to the rigors of military computing. It may work well in benign environments—and, in fact, later this year, GE will announce GPU-enabled products aimed at benign environment deployment and using the MXM architecture—but it is somewhat unsuitable for rugged systems given that it is designed for less challenging applications. It is in this area that GE’s relationship with Nvidia has proved especially beneficial: Access to in-depth Nvidia expertise has allowed GPU silicon to be implemented on, and integrated within, fully rugged computing platforms designed for deployment in the most demanding environments, conforming to the design, procurement, manufacturing, and qualification process standards required by military and aerospace customers, such as AS9100, IPC 610 Class 3, MIL-STD-810, and so on.

But “rugged” is not just about resistance to shock, vibration, extremes of temperature, and so on. A key area in which military and aerospace customers differ from their commercial counterparts is that performance per watt, not absolute performance, matters most—because, in an often physically-constrained environment, heat dissipation is difficult to achieve, yet absolutely vital if reliability in a mission-critical environment is to be guaranteed.

The maximum performance of the system is governed by the ability to remove heat from the processing units. That set of constraints has given rise to the notion of a solution’s SWaP (size, weight, and power) characteristics—its size, weight and power. Designing the most power-hungry silicon down onto the host board provides the best possible opportunity to design heat management systems to remove the heat most effectively, and keep the processors crunching numbers at maximum performance, thus optimizing SWaP for any given sub-system.

GPGPU technology is already being evaluated and fielded by a large number of military and aerospace programs—and with, for example, one radar application showing a performance increase of 15x compared with more traditional approaches, that’s not surprising. However, in an emerging market, it is important to realize that not all GPGPU platforms targeted at the military and aerospace market are created equal—and that not all claims to be “first” are 100 percent accurate.

In the excitement about the technology, it’s also important that program managers apply the same kind of selection criteria as they would for any other prospective solution, such as determining the nature of the extended product roadmap and the availability of long-term programs to support multi-year—perhaps multi-decade—deployments. As GPGPU technology enters the military and aerospace mainstream—as it surely will—those considerations will, inevitably, become second nature.


Simon Collins is product manager at GE Intelligent Platforms based in Charlottesville, Va.

More Military & Aerospace Electronics Current Issue Articles
More Military & Aerospace Electronics Archives Issue Articles


Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:


  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles


Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:


  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

Flexible Printed Circuit Board

Flexible Printed Circuit Boards are one of the most popular types of circuit boards used in a var...

Printed Circuit Board Assembly

Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCB ASSY) is as critical a process as circuit board manufacturing.

CANoe.A429

CANoe.A429 is ideal for the test and analysis of ARINC 429 buses and of individual devices on up ...

VN0601 - Interface for ARINC 429 Bus Systems

The VN0601 is a compact and powerful interface for ARINC 429 bus systems. The interface convenien...

XPand6020 | Small Form Factor (SFF) System Featuring XPedite5205 Running Cisco IOS® and XPedite7450

The XPand6020 is a Small Form Factor (SFF) system that features an XPedite5205, which runs Cisco ...

XPand6200 Series | Small Form Factor (SFF) Sub-½ ATR Rugged COTS System utilizing 3U VPX, XMC, and PMC Modules

The XPand6200 Series is a true Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Rugged system, supporting many 3U ...

XChange3011 | Conduction- or Air-Cooled Redundant Gigabit Ethernet Switch

The XChange3011 provides two independent Gigabit Ethernet switch fabrics. These fabrics allow com...

XPand1300 | 3U VPX Air-Cooled Development Platform

The XPand1300 is a low-cost, flexible, development platform. This system supports up to fifteen 0...

XPedite2470 | 3U VPX Xilinx Virtex-7 FPGA Module with FMC Site and Freescale P1010 Processor

The XPedite2470 is a high-performance, reconfigurable, conduction- or air-cooled, 3U VPX, FPGA pr...

XChange3012 | 3U VPX PCIe and Gigabit Ethernet Integrated Switch with XMC and Management Support

The XChange3012 is a conduction- or air-cooled 3U VPX module that provides both PCI Express and E...

Related Companies

A-FLEX

Provides customized Printed Circuit Board fabrication in California. The entire process can be customized according t...

TASC Technical & Assembly Services Corporation Electronic Equipment Manufacturing

Electronic Manufacturing sub-contractor. Circuit Board assembly, Cable Assembly, Wire Harness Assembly, Box Build Ass...

Vector Informatik GmbH

Provides solutions to benefit developers and test engineers for aerospace electronic networking. Focuses on tools for...

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions (CWDS) is a long established techno...

DDC-I Inc

Offers complete solutions for embedded software developers with a focus on mission- and safety-critical applications....

United Electronic Industries Inc

UEI is a leader in the PC/Ethernet data acquisition and control, Data Logger/Recorder and Programmable Automation Con...

STMicroelectronics Inc

ST serves customers across the spectrum of sense, power, automotive products, and embedded processing solutions. From...

MERITEC

Signal integrity leaders and preferred vertically integrated manufacturer of high-performance electrical and electron...

Stealth.com

Manufactures industrial rugged computers and peripherals, including custom rack servers, rugged LCD monitors, mini PC...

AcQ Inducom

Develops and produces non-certified and certified high-tech modular hardware- and software solutions for on-board and...
Wire News provided by   

Press Releases

Calibration services

Bonding and adhesives

PELORUS NAVAL SYSTEMS Inc

Pelorus Naval Systems is a specialist naval defense engineering and support services company with headquarters in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, USA, in the greater Lo...

Webcasts

New Design Tools That Help You Develop Radar That Sees the Un-seeable and Detects the Undetectable

Xilinx EW/ISR System Architect, Luke Miller, has new tricks and he’s going to tell you all about them in a new Xilinx Webinar—for free. His Webinar will cover new ways to implement Radar functions including ...
Sponsored by:

All Access Sponsors


Mil & Aero Magazine

July 2015
Volume 26, Issue 7
file

Download Our Apps



iPhone

iPad

Android

Follow Us On...



Newsletters

Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information
SUBSCRIBE

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities
SUBSCRIBE

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers
SUBSCRIBE

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.
SUBSCRIBE

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications
SUBSCRIBE

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles
SUBSCRIBE