Rugged Server Goes Out on a Limb, Literally

Routing packets back into the cloud just to recognize a face or stream a movie is so last year. The hottest trend on the Internet is Mobile Edge Computing…on a pole, pedestal, maybe even mounted in a tree.

IDC, Gartner, Cisco and even my grandmother know that the number of Internet devices, nodes and sheer data traffic is going up faster than the telcos, ISPs and wireless carriers can cost-effectively add capacity. If you set aside video, which is on track to consume 80 percent of the Internet in a few years, or IoT with its forecast of “billions of nodes,” plain old web pages are hitting servers more often, too. reports—based on data from the HTTP Archive—that for the mobile web “over 47% of surveyed web pages have between 50-125 requests per page” and round-trip-times (RTT) of 100ms per request means that smartphone users are waiting a long time to get web pages.

There’s a solution, says Jeff Sharpe, Senior Manager, Network & Communications from embedded supplier ADLINK. “Mobile Edge Computing puts more of the Internet’s processing and data serving right where it’s needed most: at or close to the user,” says Sharpe. In essence, MEC means that instead of every mobile user request for information traveling across the Internet to distant servers—web pages, Facebook pictures, a playback video clip from a sports event that happened only seconds ago—the request only travels from the user’s smartphone to a local cell tower. A server resident at the tower basestation (eNodeB) does the calculation, serves up the web page, streams the music, or does whatever, thus reducing load on the backhaul and dramatically improving the user’s wait time.

But how can the entire Internet and its thousands of servers be brought to every eNodeB? It’s not; the edge server acts as a cache server/content delivery network (CDN). According to Sharpe: “It optimizes network performance for end users by performing local processing, and it handles distributed content delivery plus local application hosting.” In other words, the network has an inkling of what you are going to do next based upon what you just did a moment ago (say, you searched for ‘Define Radio Access Network’) and the MEC server can predictively cache content locally. It can also run algorithms and process data.

It’s all very sophisticated, and the standards organization has published a white paper authored by Huawei, IBM, Intel, Nokia, NTT DOCOMO and Vodafone (Figure 1). If you’ve been following the latest telecom trends, the buzzwords NFV, SDN, virtualization, radio access network (RAN), DNS caching and more are all wrapped up with MEC. That’s more than I want to cover here. Suffice it to say: needed to make this happen are open standards, which are in process, and cost-effective rugged servers that can survive the harsh basestation environment— one that gets hot in the desert, frozen in Ottawa and hurricane-blasted in South Carolina. You get the idea: MEC can not be implemented with your typical 19-inch rack mount core Internet server.

Figure 1: The Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) architecture takes the load off the backhaul and central servers but requires open standards and open hardware. (Courtesy: Intel and )

Soft Serve: Tasty Use Cases
You might’ve guessed by now that ADLINK has a hardware/software solution to fit this emerging market (Figure 2). First, a brief mention before describing some use cases. The company’s ETOS-1000 isn’t yet announced, says Jeff Sharpe, “but there’s nothing like it on the market. The super-rugged conduction-cooled server can literally be mounted on a pole along with other basestation equipment and connected only by telecom power and Ethernet.”

The passively cooled and sealed (to IP65) box is fanless and can operate over -40°C to +55°C. Powered by single or dual Intel Xeon E5’s up to 2.0 GHz, there are six DDR3 RDIMM sockets for up to 96 GB of memory (dual Xeon only). Storage includes two 2.5-inch removable SDDs and up to 256GB of bootable Flash. There are two 10/100/1000Base-T Ethernet ports and dual 10G SFP+ interfaces. Truthfully, if you review the datasheet you’d be forgiven if you see “just another set of server specs.” But the magic that ADLINK has done is getting it all to work with no fans that might fail, and getting it to work outdoors right up there on the tower or power pole. This kind of thing is ADLINK’s specialty area.

But the really exciting stuff, says ADLINK’s Sharpe, are all the use cases for MEC. “Augmented reality apps popular on iOS and Android would no longer have to rely on distant cloud servers to overlay computer-generated images on your smartphone screen,” he told me. Instead, the heavy lifting of image recognition, photo overlay and 3D rendering can be done right at the tower and close to the user. This means a shorter response time and minimal load on the backhaul and the greater Internet.

Figure 2: ADLINK’s rugged, fully sealed and fanless HXC-1000 outdoor server targets the emerging Mobile Edge Computing market.

“It’s all about optimizing the backhaul,” says Sharpe. Doing domain name server (DNS) caching at the edge, for example, can take up to 35 percent of the load off the backhaul while reducing the latency for the mobile user by up to 50 percent. Sharpe says this kind of MEC will be essential as the market migrates to 5G cellular that will benefit from more local processing and backhaul preservation.

ADLINK’s ETOS-1000 is being considered for several of these kinds of installations. According to Sharpe, the product is ideal in next-gen networks because of its -40°C to +55°C operation. Plus, it runs all of Intel’s sever software goodies like DPDK and vProTM, and supports the IPMI control software. And the darned thing can survive while getting rained on.

Other use cases for a core server mounted on a pole include: open-field oil well fracking; on-tractor agricultural geo-locating that’s beyond the performance of the typical embedded computer; private IoT/M2M networks with large sensor loads; water or waste water treatment processing control; and first responder portable networks with at-edge processing.

This article was sponsored by ADLINK.

Contact Information

ADLINK Technology Inc.

5215 Hellyer Ave. #110
San Jose, CA, 95138

tele: 1.408.360.0200
toll-free: 1.866.4.ADLINK

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