Mil-Aero Design Embraces Intelligent Application-Ready ATCA Platforms

Cohesive Hardware/Software Solutions Accelerate Development of High Performance Data and Video Applications

Telecommunications design continues its evolution toward higher bandwidth and performance, fueled by growth in Giga-bit Ethernet, wireless network systems and competitive business models incorporating multi-play network services. Similar data-rich applications characterize military design, with a broad spectrum of image-intensive applications powering modern warfare. With fewer troops on the ground, more use of reconnaissance gathered via autonomous vehicles, and real-time feeds informing command and operations, system developers must deliver more network-centric solutions and applications that offer ideal support to today's warfighter.

Figure 1. Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products have become commonplace in many domains, including telecom, network and defense, as they can provide standardized functionality and shorter time-to-market at lower cost than custom-built solutions. AdvancedTCA-based Application Ready Intelligent Platforms deliver the high-density processing power, faster data throughput and intelligent system management required for established and emerging network-centric military applications
High performance AdvancedTCA® technology is playing an important role here, capitalizing on its proven telecom success by blending hardware and software into intelligent platforms that accelerate development of technically demanding military applications. Part of this platform’s maturation is its cohesiveness as a building block solution, eliminating its early piecemeal development approach and more closely aligning with the COTS-based design that is essential in military arenas. More complete ATCA platforms, integrated with hardware, software, firmware, operating systems, and developer toolkits, provide the design structure necessary in an increasingly network-centric military. For designers, this enables high performance network scaling to accommodate high availability, high bandwidth data and video applications, power management, and more.

Applying Telecom Success to Military Design

Telecom’s ATCA standard is optimized for applications like long-term rugged deployment of traditional local and long-distance service, video on demand (VOD) and broadband communications services such as high-speed Internet access and video conferencing. Its robust, enterprise-grade performance applies effectively to the data transmission, packet processing and high performance computing that defines military computing today. Capitalizing on ATCA’s advanced performance features, military designers can access its high availability, fault tolerance and efficient cooling to deliver dedicated computing power for uninterrupted application service meeting uptime of five nines (99.999%).

Yet even with intrinsic platform advantages for military design, early deployments with ATCA resulted in extended development time and more of a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to developing complex applications. ATCA platforms have picked up greater speed in mil-aero adoption by evolving past fragmented design requirements, with modern ATCA-based platforms driving significant improvements in a once time-consuming and costly design structure. Now available as fully formed Application Ready Intelligent Platforms (Figure 1) that combine hardware, operating system and software components into a computing engine for end-user applications, ATCA is more applicable to both the technical and market challenges inherent to mil-aero environments.

System Design Tools Accelerate Development

ATCA ARIPs are optimized for robustness, manageability and intelligence, and include toolkits for power management, diagnostics and application control. As an example, the Intel® Data Plane Development Kit (Intel DPDK), a lightweight run-time environment for Intel® architecture processors, offers access to low overhead and run-to-completion mode to maximize packet processing performance. Intel DPDK provides a rich selection of optimized and efficient libraries, also known as the Environment Abstraction Layer (EAL). These libraries are responsible for initializing and allocating low-level resources – hiding the environment specifics from the applications and libraries, and gaining access to low-level resources such as memory space, PCI devices, timers and consoles.

Figure 2. ADLINK's DPDK is a development toolkit based on the Intel DPDK, allowing designers to easily develop their own Intel DPDK based applications.
In traditional networks, switching modules would be used to route traffic between in-band system modules and out-of-band systems. Processor modules would be used for applications and control plane functions, packet processing modules used for data plane functions, and DSP modules would handle specialized signal plane functions. Using the Intel DPDK toolkit, Intel® x86 architecture-based processor modules can not only handle traditional processing applications and control functions, but they can also capably and efficiently perform packet processing functions. This streamlined and high performance design approach lets military developers take advantage of the continuing trend towards convergence of network infrastructure; designs can rely on a common platform or modular components to support multiple network elements and processing functions for applications, control, packets and signals. In addition to reducing costs and time-to-market, this approach is both flexible and modular, ensuring the ability to independently upgrade system components as needed, using a common platform or modular components in shelf systems and networks of varying sizes.

A military surveillance application illustrates the need for this type of performance; with cameras and sensors detecting images within a large, specified field of vision, such systems have high-speed signal processing requirements as well as overall increased processing demands because the system is steadily transferring data in and out of storage. Similar requirements for high-speed data apply to all branches of the military. For example, in addition to WIN-T, emerging missions for the Navy will increase its use of sensors for improved performance and situational awareness, improving torpedo defense systems to process data at rates equivalent to current video processing in UAVs. UAVs in turn, offer some of the most in-demand capabilities and are poised to reshape the battlefield by virtue of their ability to compress the ‘observe, orient, decide and act’ (OODA) loop for military leaders through the use of real-time data processing and sharing.

ARIP Boosts Video Transcoding Performance

Just as telecommunications providers are rapidly transforming their networks to support new and innovative IP-enabled communications services— particularly video streams in 4G/LTE mobile and OTT services network — military designers are facing similar challenges. Real-time data and video processing has become integral to military superiority, supplying situational awareness, targeting and surveillance, next generation radar and sonar, or 3D training simulations to prepare warfighters for the field.

Figure 3. With value added by ADLINK MSDK Plus, Intel Media SDK becomes a comprehensive end-to-end solution for media processing tasks. ADLINK MSDK Plus provides fundamental media processing functions missing from Intel Media SDK.
Applications featuring both short- and long-range, high-bandwidth wireless network access require flexible and efficient video/media processing and communications capabilities in their supporting networks, for example, IP stream-to-IP stream, IP stream-to-file and vice versa. A network-centric military must also economically deliver application scalability and network simplicity for next-generation IP video and communications services. Flexible and performance-optimized toolkits, such as the Intel® Media Software Development Kit (Intel® Media SDK), can accelerate video applications by enabling scalability and the economical execution of common tasks such as video transcoding.

The Intel Media SDK is a cross-platform (Windows and Linux) application programming interface (API) for developing professional media applications, such as video editing and processing, media conversion, streaming and playback, and video conferencing. Military developers can decode from video elementary stream formats such as H.264, MPEG-2, VC-1, and JPEG/Motion JPEG to uncompressed frames, and later encode uncompressed frames back to elementary streams. Data-rich applications do not need to be redesigned to take advantage of new processor features as they emerge, as Intel Media SDK supports current and future x86 processors.

Manufacturers Add Value to Developer Toolkits

Manufacturers are further extending the capabilities of development tools in ATCA-based systems, filling in additional features or performance options that complete the intelligent platform design approach. For example, it is important to note that the Intel DPDK is a data plane development kit running in the user space, and not a complete product on which developers can directly build their applications. In particular, it does not include the implementations required to interact with the control plane, including kernel and protocol stacks. To address this, ADLINK has developed its own development toolkit based on the Intel DPDK (Figure 2). This enables developers to manage both the control plane and the data plane, performing tasks like cloning virtual NICs at the control plane to sync with physical ports at the data plane. Using such a toolkit, customers can easily develop their own Intel DPDK based applications to interact with control and data planes, not only improving packet processing performance, but also making the development path easier and reducing time to market.

Intel Media SDK is already a flexible solution for many media workloads. ADLINK MSDK Plus expands on its functionality by providing additional modules to handle common media processing tasks not natively supported by the Intel API, including mux/demux of media container files, RTP receiving and RTP streaming. By utilizing ADLINK MSDK Plus, designers can easily build an end-to-end solution around the Intel Media SDK to meet their media processing and communications needs. Designers developing fully functional media applications will no longer need to deal with these operations themselves, and can decode a container file without additional software to separate the video elementary data from the container file.

Figure 3 illustrates the four input/output modules ADLINK MSDK Plus provides to handle common media processing tasks, including mux, demux, RTP receiver and RTP sender. Common audio and video formats found in military applications can be muxed or demuxed to or from a container file, while audio and video elements can be received and processed from separate RTP streams, and delivered with their respective streams to a destination over the network.

ATCA’s Role in Defense Electronics

Military computing covers a broad spectrum, ranging from rugged handheld devices used in the field to enterprise servers performing in secure, data-center-like conditions. ATCA is optimized to fit somewhere between these two extremes – offering the compute density and raw performance required for military computing’s new high-throughput voice and data networking functions.

For example, existing open standards such as VME and CompactPCI® offer rugged form factor options that are suited for heavy I/O, but they restrict network performance based on electrical and thermal constraints as well as limited networking and processing capabilities. Enterprise-grade servers offer speed and processing performance, however they are not rugged enough to qualify as a reliable, high availability platform option. ATCA is optimized to address these requirements, offering military design value as a power efficient open standard, supporting high performance packet and data processing in a rugged, bladed architecture.

Proven in the rugged world of telecom, ATCA’s military niche is poised to expand further with the development of Application Ready Intelligent Platforms. Not as simple as a bare-bones DIY platform and not as inflexible as a turnkey or total solution platform, ATCA ARIPs perform as a set of validated, integrateable modules that include essential operating systems, firmware and middleware components. Risk and application development time are reduced, and designers are enabled with a platform ready to conduct the final integration for their own solutions in specific application areas. Integrated software toolkits enable development at product quality level rather than Proof of Concept (PoC). Systems get to field faster with the standards-based, proven rugged performance necessary for advanced signal processing applications – including command and control, manned and unmanned aerospace surveillance, ground mobile communications and maritime networks, which must collect and manage large amounts of data in real time.

Better, real-time data is the nature of military design. New, data rich applications and tech refresh projects often demand modern IOs such as USB 3.0, SATA, PCIe 3.0; higher resolution displays add to the challenge as imaging applications step up to high definition. For military designers and OEMs, all of these applications point to the need for continued evolution and improvement in data processing performance and reliability, keeping soldiers safe, informed and connected with intelligent ATCA platforms focused on data processing and sharing.

This article was written by Yong Luo, Head of ADLINK Technology’s Embedded Computing Product Segment, ADLINK (San Jose, CA). For more information, Click Here .