Military is increasingly looking to commercial ICT devices like Smartphones and tablets and they are rapidly making their way into military operations. Modern ICT devices can provide “information superiority” to military by providing information with greater timeliness, relevance, accuracy, and comprehensiveness than to an adversary.
Intelligence and military applications rely on massive data pipelines to drive intelligence gathering and mission-critical decision-making. With future conflicts likely to take place in megacities and highly populated areas, deployed military commanders will need access to local sensors, including not only cameras but also sensors or data feeds related to other essential activities in or around a city. Modern warfare on the big data battlefield relies on insights extracted from ever-growing volumes of unstructured, time-critical Big data. The speed at which the warfighter is able to collect, process, analyze, and understand data directly impacts mission success.
Today’s warfighter often operates in remote, environmentally hostile, and actively contested regions. Distanced from normal IT infrastructure, their situation necessitates processing big data on-site – or at the “tactical edge.” Tactical edge devices can be found on drones, aircraft, land vehicles, and maritime vessels. On these platforms, hardware constraints such as size, weight, and power (SWaP) and extreme environmental conditions must be considered.
Industry innovators are accomplishing breakthroughs with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions to tackle specialized problems in military systems that must operate in extreme conditions. By using off-the-shelf components, manufacturers can mate affordable, proven technology into proprietary designs that can stand up to the conditions of the modern battlefield on land, in the air, or at sea.
Battlefield Big Data Challenges
“Big data” refers to large datasets so complex that transforming them into useful information cannot be achieved by traditional means. Warfighters operate in Big Data battlefield where sensors, wearable computers, Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, unmanned ground vehicles and artificial intelligence (AI) systems all contribute to mission success. Robotic convoys and medevac will require few, if any, human operators, these automated transports will speed delivery and reduce casualties. ISR robots have been used for several years to search caves, check vehicles for explosives, look into buildings and show warfighters what is behind a wall or other visual barrier.
These devices produce enormous amounts of data (volume) stored in varying formats (variety) that must be transmitted rapidly (velocity) and reliably (veracity) into downstream systems to drive critical decisions (value). Drawing timely insights from big data and understanding its challenges has become paramount to strengthening national security.
The challenges of big data break down into five fundamental areas – volume, variety, velocity, veracity and value, also known as the five Vs.
Volume: Datasets are often massive. Storing and moving this data without inundating existing IT infrastructure becomes a challenge without the proper hardware. Volumes of data are growing exponentially, necessitating scalable solutions.
Velocity: Analysis is most useful when it’s timely, driving real-time critical thinking and decisions. Important factors that can hamper data processing include insufficient bandwidth, improper communications infrastructure, weather, and outdated hardware.
Variety: Data comes from a variety of sources and arrives in both structured and unstructured forms. Unstructured data – such as surveillance imagery, sensor readings, and human-generated content – is the most challenging to analyze. Without the proper software tools and analysis techniques, critical information may never surface from the chaotic mix of collected data.
Veracity: Collected data must be clean and accurate. The hardware that safeguards data contributes to veracity by ensuring all data is reliably and securely stored. Information warfare (IW) and cyberattacks represent growing threats to veracity because they pose the risk of lost or altered mission-critical data.
Value: The most important of the 5 Vs. Data is useless unless you can gain insight into its value. For example, users cannot deploy resources or make key operational decisions without understanding the risks, costs, and benefits to the mission.
AI Enabled Battlefield Systems
AI can assist with this operations assessment process by providing accurate situational awareness. It will help the staff to analyze trends and predict scenario possibilities and developments. AI will recommend operational actions to achieve operational effects, and it is likely to suggest activities the staff would not have identified or correlated. AI-enabled military systems are smarter because they can extract insights from big data, which both enhances system autonomy and reduces reliance on error-prone human input. AI enabled systems can effectively process “big” combat data at the tactical edge to support new autonomous capabilities that identify threats, predict enemy behavior, optimize logistics, and protect military networks from cyberattacks.
AI applications rely on vast stores of data and computing resources. Supporting such capabilities at the tactical edge requires “built-to-purpose” hardware that fulfills SWaP requirements, can manage the five V demands of big data, and can handle device interoperability.
Military processing requirements
Today’s battlefield environments range from land to sea to air, but even in these diverse domains, three key design elements are necessary to keep battlefield servers operational where lives are at stake. First, high-performance servers require innovative heat management to achieve maximum system performance without CPU throttling, even in the hottest desert conditions or in cramped, sealed environments. Second, reliability is critical, making line replacement units (LRUs) a key element that must be considered at the early design stage. Finally, application code reuse requires a modular approach so that the same application software is portable across many different server types based upon the installation as a way of saving money.
To optimize space, edge-computing platforms strive to pack the latest processing, memory, storage, and I/O features into compact form factors without compromising reliability. To survive harsh environmental exposure, edge devices are subjected to stringent testing standards such as MIL-STD-810, MIL-STD-167, and MIL-STD-901, among others. Deploying a reliable processing solution with a failure rate closest to zero is critical to ensuring mission success.
On land, battlefield servers are commonly deployed in fixed-building platforms such as CONUS [Continental United States]; in tents or trailers used for quasi-fixed, behind-front-lines operations centers; or in mobile vehicles such as Humvees, MRAPs [mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles], or Strykers. But heat is a killer for servers, especially in today’s desert battlefields. Commercial temperature components operate at 0 °C to 70 °C and their performance suffers (or results in failure) when they get too hot. When Intel processors get close to their maximum 100 °C temperature, the CPU throttles, slowing down the clock to lower the workload and the device temperature. When this happens, the server slows down, its performance suffers, and under battlefield conditions, the slowdown could result in loss of life.
Battlefield servers have unique requirements in other areas besides environmental. One is reliability: For rackmount servers, the ability to quickly replace a module due to failure or for an upgrade drives the need for modularity and hot-swap line replacement units (LRUs). Every module of the system – from power supply and fan assemblies to VPX-based motherboard and drive assemblies – must be replaceable in seconds. This is the downfall of typical commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) 1U or 2U servers: If there’s a failure, the entire server must be replaced.
One of the biggest users of commercial rackmount servers is the U.S. Navy because the air-conditioned shipboard environment is typically tolerant of commercial equipment. Ships stockpile large volumes of new, brand-name servers that are constantly deployed as spares for the servers that are widely deployed on the ship.
In contrast, battlefield-rugged servers bring higher mean time between failures (MTBF) and can operate longer in environments that experience extreme heat, moisture, shock, and vibration, while remaining competitive with commercial server costs. A modular design for these purpose-built servers enables anything in the system to be swapped out on the battlefield, underway on board the ship, or in the air on a reconnaissance mission. This is particularly important in a submarine, for example, where carrying a few replacement modules is far more practical than hauling around a large quantity of spare servers.
Deployed hardware must also provide configurability and scalability for future deployments while leveraging the latest in commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies. COTS technologies are central to powering such AI elements as general-purpose graphics processing units (GPGPUs), which aggregate many compute cores on a hefty PCIe adapter module. This deep-learning format enables the simultaneous processing of massive datasets, delivering the extreme parallelism and bandwidth AI applications demand.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has developed an informational architecture – known as the Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DoDAF) v2.0 – aimed at modernizing the warfighter and their infrastructure by providing guidelines on collecting, analyzing, and categorizing data.
Battlefield servers are being designed into a wide range of demanding defense applications. These include forward-deployed operations centers mobile tatical command posts; vehicle-mounted network infrastructure for semipermanent battlefield operations; shipboard systems; widebody command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) and electronic warfare platforms; and airborne command infrastructure that links to onboard and SATCOM [satellite communication] networks. For each of these diverse domains, a modular, purpose-built design approach ensures operational success for systems where lives are at stake. Key design considerations include innovative approaches for heat dissipation, modular spares to ensure system reliability, and application portability for multiplatform systems.
In buildings, tents, and trailers, servers are typically air-cooled (via convection) rackmount equipment, 19 inches wide and stacked with other gear such as RAID [redundant array of independent disks] drives, power supplies, Ethernet switches, and sometimes rackmount radios. Convection servers use fans and pure commercial-temperature components. These are often the same equipment used in enterprise installations, which work in an air-conditioned server room but not in burned-out battlefield command post buildings or mobile operations tents. In these locations, large, portable air conditioners are required to keep servers operating without overheating.
When rackmount servers operate without air conditioners, throttling can only be avoided with efficient air flow across the system and by effectively moving heat from components such as the processors onto the heat sinks. An effective approach is to use two hot-swappable fan tray assemblies that each contain six independently controlled fans. At 10,000 rpm per fan, hundreds of CFM [cubic feet per minute] are available to the entire 19-inch chassis to keep the system cool. To get the air to the heat sinks requires a very large assembly – as much as the full surface of a 6U VPX motherboard – plus vertical fins.
An additional approach uses one set of fans to push air across the heat sink assembly, while a second set pulls air out of another part of the system, intermixing cooler inlet air to counterbalance the warmer air moving across the heat sink. Individual fan control can be used to monitor multiple in-system temperature sensors so air flow can be tuned for maximum cooling.
In vehicles, servers might be rackmounted and installed in suitcase-like transit cases, but increasingly they are conduction-cooled small-form-factor (SFF) sealed chassis that are more robust and purpose-built to handle Xeon-class workloads. These systems may require new cooling technologies, such as the use of a viscous metallic bath in which the processor’s contact slug sits, creating a very low thermal path from the hot processor package to the final air-cooled heat sink. The result is less than a 10-degree heat rise from the hot die to the heat sink. This efficient thermal path means that more than 90 percent of the heat from the processor makes it to the heat sink and into the air stream, which makes it useful for an air-cooled server on a battlefield without air conditioning. For conduction-cooled battlefield servers, this technology moves heat directly to the box’s mounting cold plate.
Application code reuse across platforms
Many large defense contractors have multiplatform systems, such as a command module with moving maps, sensor fusion, and database retrieval that overlays data on the unfolding mission scenario. This command system may reside in an air transport rack (ATR) or vetronics chassis mounted in an armored vehicle or widebody aircraft, could be in an air-cooled rack on a ship, or may need to be shoehorned into an SFF system on a multimission ground vehicle.
The same application software must be portable across many different server types, so the customer merely chooses the format of the server based upon the installation. That choice requires rugged servers to be code-compatible within the same processor family using a computer-on-module (COM) engine that houses the processor or processors subsystem, such as an Intel Xeon E5, Xeon D, or future processor types. The engine is the same, whether used in a VPX server blade, a SFF conduction-cooled chassis, an air-cooled 19-inch rackmount, or even sandwiched into a smart-panel PC display.
General Micro Systems (GMS) ‘s X422 Lightning system
General Micro Systems’ (GMS) New S422/X422 Server and AI Engine Set Brings Greater Performance to Next-Gen Army Vehicle and Airborne Systems. The powerful, rugged vehicle-mounted server combo is ideal for applications
requiring massive computation and sensor fusion in autonomous vehicles, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and C4ISR/Electronic Warfare systems. Applications include computing clusters and parallel computing, digital signal processing, digital image processing, video processing, neural networks, data mining, cryptography, and intrusion detection.
The system pair brings a massive amount of server processing power, 10/40/100 Gigabit networking ports for sensors, and general-purpose graphics processing unit (GPGPU) artificial intelligence (AI) onto the battlefield for the first time in two small “shoebox-sized” rugged chassis designed to survive the harshest conditions where regular rackmount servers cannot.
At the Association for the United States Army (AUSA) conference, General Micro Systems (GMS) announced that its new S422-SW and X422 combination has been chosen for two new military development programs. The two programs that selected the S422-SW “Thunder” and X422 “Lightning” combo will deploy it in mobile platforms to move IP-based sensor data instantaneously over multi-sensor LANs into the server and AI processor. Once processed, the server reports out to operators information that can help maneuver a vehicle or UAS in real-time, calculate a fire control solution for a weapon, or identify threats such as stationary IEDs or incoming objects such
“The tremendous processing power of this combo makes it a highly attractive option for these two development programs as well as others creating autonomous, self-driving or self-piloting vehicles,” said Ben Sharfi, chief
architect and CEO, General Micro Systems. “Through these programs, the sealed, fan-less, computer pair brings local, highest performing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies onto the battlefield for the first time in deployable, small form factor systems—right at the ‘tip of the spear’ where they’re needed most.”
Proven, Robust and Connected Technology for the Battlefield
The represents the most robust technology available from companies like Intel^®, Nvidia^®, Broadcom^®, and Cumulus Networks^®. The S422-SW, a conduction-cooled, fan-less, rugged, low-cost Intel Xeon^® E5 server operating over -40 °C to +85 °C, provides an on-platform or in-vehicle 30-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet local area network (LAN) designed to interface with the high-bandwidth sensors needed for next-generation autonomous vehicles or battlefield reconnaissance. Sensors such as radar, LIDAR, CCTV, and multiple wavelength IR or acoustic sensors generate massive amounts of data that must be moved in real-time over the LAN and processed and stored locally by the S422-SW’s Intel Xeon E5 server CPU. The companion X422 co-processor uses two of Nvidia’s V100 Tesla GPGPU AI engines to comb through the data to perform target tracking, image processing and enhancement, vector algorithms and more—all in real time at 400 FLOPS.
The S422-SW simplifies local data processing tasks that require an ultra-fast, virtual machine-ready, 22 core Xeon-class server with vast amounts of high-speed, ECC-protected RAM and storage in one ultra-rugged chassis. ”Thunder” is also an enterprise-class multi-port LAN or a network attached storage (NAS) appliance equipped with a professional-class intelligent Layer 2/3/pseudo-4 Ethernet switch/router and data center networking software from
Networking capability includes four 40 GbE fiber ports and thirty 10 GbE ports. The 10 GbE ports come from a Broadcom^® Layer 2/3/pseudo-4 enterprise class switch that has never before been used in a deployed battlefield
computer. Each of the 10 GbE ports support power-over-Ethernet (POE+) to directly power remote nodes or sensors while simplifying wiring requirements, up to 100 W maximum total power sourced. The quad 40 GbE fiber ports—also configurable as 100 GbE—are useful for highest-rate sensors, or inter-system communications to software-defined radios, data intensive EW processors, or other in-vehicle systems.
S422-SW is closely coupled with the X422 via the GMS FlexIO™ 16 lane, 8 GT/s PCI Express Gen 3 bus extension. X422 is equipped with dual Nvidia Tesla V100 data mining/algorithm processing AI engines that together boast up to a staggering 400 TFLOPS of algorithm computation. The GPGPU modules are ruggedized by GMS for reliable conduction cooling in the X422 chassis. In lieu of these modules, other dual-slot, 250 W PCIe cards can be used for
co-processing with S422-SW, including: AMD GPGPUs, Altera or Xilinx FPGA modules, DSP cards, and more. Local intelligence in X422 allows the cards to work together or independently, depending upon the application. Separate I/O ports feed data into the X422 via dedicated front panel connections, if the GMS FlexIO™ bus isn’t used for I/O transfer. X422 “Lightning” was introduced at AUSA 2018 as a co-processor to GMS’s Apex 2U rackmount server.
“The X422 GPGPU system allows extraordinary quantities of data to be collected and processed right on the battlefield in real time, significantly shortening the decision loop for providing solutions and recommendations to warfighters,” says Ben Sharfi, chief architect and CEO at General Micro Systems. “Ultimately, the X422 enables live targets to be identified, flagged, and even fired upon in record time. It represents a complete paradigm shift in electronic warfare, SIGINT [signals intelligence], and C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance].”