Kontron: new embedded computing standard COM HPC

Peter Müller, Vice President Product Center Boards & Modules at Kontron comments on the background to the development of the new Computer-On-Module standard COM HPC:

“Data growth is unstoppable and the upcoming 5G wireless standard will accelerate it. Experts expect new digital business models that are only conceivable due to the high data transfer rates of the upcoming 5G standard. Applications such as artificial intelligence come with enormous data hunger and require the lightning-fast, algorithm-based evaluation of the huge amount of data. IoT devices, sensors and actuators, of which more are connected to the Internet every hour, continue to produce enormous amounts of data from autonomous vehicles, for example. Hundreds of signals have to be processed in fractions of a second. Many of these scenarios no longer take place in a protected high-performance computing center or in the cloud, but close to where the data originates: on mobile masts, on production lines, in warehouses, at processing plants or in autonomous vehicles, to name just a few. Where previously embedded industrial computers provided a reliable and long-lasting service, a multiple of performance and data throughput is now needed.

This also requires new concepts for embedded computers: existing standards will no longer be sufficient to cope with the high volume of data and the computing power required to process this data. COM Express, the successful and worldwide leading standard for Computer-on-Modules since 2005, already offers a higher bandwidth with Type 7, which was published in 2016, but is reaching its limits for future high-performance applications. For less performance-hungry applications, COM Express will live on.

Leading manufacturers in the industry, such as Kontron, have set up a new working group in the PICMG standardization committee to make the COM standard fit for the future. Computer-On-Modules High Performance Computing, abbreviated COM HPC (previously known as COM HD), will be an upgrade to the existing COM Express® standard.

COM HPC will support high-end server processors and up to 8 SODIMMS for memory and will probably allow a power dissipation of up to 125 watts, where COM Express® was previously the only option at 60 watts. The new PCI Express® 4.0 standard is also supported, but also the upcoming 5.0 standard, which can no longer be served by COM Express®, which is why COM HPC comes with a new connector layout that will also support 64 PCIe lanes. COM HPC is also equipped for future fast connections via USB 3.2 and network standards such as 100 Gigabit Ethernet.

COM HPC will use two new high-speed connectors with at least 4 × 100 pins – a total of 800+ pins. The basis will be Samtec's ADF6/ADM6 series, but the row spacing will be increased and the end result will be usable for other manufacturers as well – single source is deliberately avoided here.

The target group for the new COM HPC modules is clearly the factory floor and other applications with harsh environmental conditions. The focus here is on industrial scenarios in which the modules and carrier boards have to 'withstand a lot'. In contrast to classic IT servers, which were developed for use in a protected data center or server room, COM HPC-based boards are also designed for harsh industrial environments, where they offer the performance and flexibility of typical IT servers. Kontron expects that Industrial Embedded Servers based on COM HPC will be available in two versions: a powerful version with graphics, as known from COM Express®, and a version without graphics with significantly more data lanes for sophisticated server concepts.

Kontron will add powerful server-class modules based on the COM HPC standard to the “From Edge to Fog to Cloud” concept by the beginning of 2020, for example, to manage the enormous flood of data coming from edge gateways in edge servers; as part of an embedded cloud to be able to perform AI evaluations close to the data source or to filter data at lightning speed before it is forwarded to the data center or a public or private cloud.

At COM HPC, Kontron is working with other leading manufacturers to bring performance and flexibility to the Intelligent Edge, previously only available from IT servers. They will thus form the basis for digital applications close to the origin of the data, regardless of how demanding the environmental conditions are: 'servers go embedded and rugged.”

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