Quest for the humvee-mounted mobile data center for the battlefield edge

By John Keller
Posted by John Keller

SAN DIEGO, 30 Jan. 2013. One of the chief goals of today's military electronic systems development is a full data centers featuring servers with virtualization software capability, fast Ethernet connectivity and reliable wireless networking that is small and rugged enough to fit in the back of a military utility vehicle like a humvee.

That ultimate goal might not seem so far away, however, based on exhibits this week at the AFCEA West 2013 conference and trade show in San Diego.

One of the primary challenges to designing a rugged data center for the edge of the battlefield, however, is size and weight. Today's servers can be big and heavy, and that's often before they're ruggedized sufficiently for military vehicle use.

Still, the rewards of a full data center for the forward edge of the battlefield are many. The military command post of today is data-intensive to say the least. Here warfighters must receive, process, and disseminate terabytes of sensor data, keep track of where friendly and hostile forces are, interface with rear-echelon commanders, and even manage unmanned vehicle missions.

To do that takes mountains of computing power, and sometimes more than can be brought safely and efficiently to the edge of the battlefield. Without this capability, forward-deployed warfighters have to rely on command posts in the rear by often-unreliable and delay-prone military communications links.

Yet military rugged server manufacturers like Dell Inc., in Round Rock, Texas; Crystal Group Inc. in Hiawatha, Iowa; and Themis Computer in Fremont, Calif., are rising to the task of tomorrow's rugged data center on the edge.

Themis, for example, is showing the Intel-based RES-Mini rugged server for mission-critical military, industrial, and commercial applications in rugged conditions, as well as the RES-HDS 2U server, which ultimately may lend themselves to the data center in a humvee.

These servers feature military-grade shock resistance and thermal cooling, and can fit in spaces smaller than a standard rack. The computers, furthermore are half the size of their nearest competitors, says Michael Schneider, vice president of federal and business development at Themis.

The size and weight of these rugged servers is attractive for military designers who are right up against their size and weight budgets, Schneider says.

Among the enabling technologies of these small rugged servers are the latest generations of the Intel Core i7 microprocessors, which offers several computing cores on each chip. This capability can offer big data analysis on the edge of the battlefield.

The incredible shrinking rugged server will not end with the current generation. Themis is working on redesigning the RES-Mini and HDS servers to fit in a small-form-factor Nano ATR Cub -- a rugged server that will measure less than 200 cubic inches with ruggedization and cooling built in.

This kind of development in the future not only could yield full data centers in humvees on the forward edge of battle, but perhaps also full data centers in armored combat vehicles like main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers.

Then we'll be talking about the IT guy who's earning combat pay.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

July 2015
Volume 26, Issue 7

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