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Designs for the Embedded Market Place

Today’s embedded computing applications touch just about every phase of modern life, and this trend promises to grow. According to a statement in January 2004 by Venture Development Corporation, “Shipments of ruggedized/industrial computer systems to markets in North America and Western Europe for industrial automation control and instrumentation is expected to increase at a 5% unit Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR), reaching $537 million in 2006.” Developers are demanding standard building blocks that deliver solutions for rich media applications with high-performance processing on a modular, scalable platform. Growing concerns for global security is fueling a 35% CAGR, with demand for smarter software to support deployment of more intelligent and robust systems.

Cooling for Small Form Factors

Small form factors are widely used for market segments such as industrial applications, consumer products, point of sales/information terminals, medical devices, communications, transportation, education terminals, traffic control and many more. A small form factor can be characterized as a system board that contains a processor and chipset whose total board area is less than 300 cm2. Many of these small form factor boards are placed in a chassis that contains multiple boards in a rack configuration, as the main board or as a daughter-card/mezzanine-card. While small form factors have enormous potential for multiple market segments, the ability to cool high-performance processors and chipsets can be the main limiting factor. The design of thermal solutions for small form factor computing systems has to take many different parameters into consideration, including board size, available height for the thermal solution, maximum local ambient temperature, and airflow.

In addition to the system conditions, the processor and chipset specifications and location of these components must be considered. The selection of processors and chipset relies heavily on current cooling capacities, and the thermal solution design is greatly affected by the constraints imposed by the chassis configuration and system boundary conditions. To meet the requirements of the market, these microprocessors must be compact in design, low in power consumption, and highly reliable. After the system has been defined, there are three basic types of thermal solutions: natural convection, active, and passive. Each of these has benefits and limitations, yet by building effective thermal solutions, developers can make use of high-performance microprocessors and chipsets in their embedded computer applications.

Embedded Computing in Communications

The communications industry is also experiencing a rapid evolution, driven by pervasive trends that include the convergence of voice and data, the availability of bandwidth required to carry richer data types and the trend towards greater in-network data processing. These market dynamics create new challenges for equipment developers and network operators alike. Additionally, OEMs face the challenge of implementing scalable design solutions that can meet a wide variety of performance requirements, yet today’s increasingly competitive market dynamics dictate that these solutions must be flexible enough to meet tight time-to-market demands. Finally, service providers are looking for ways to cost-effectively deploy new communications capabilities into existing network infrastructures.

Today’s networks are rapidly evolving to support the next generation of services, influenced by these key trends:

  • Greater network bandwidths, along with mobile telephony and wireless Internet capabilities, are creating the demand for new technologies that support higher traffic from the edge to the core, requiring equipment with higher port densities. In addition, higher traffic and complex network architectures are requiring a more robust, intelligent control plane, with improved processing capabilities.
  • Converged network architectures that blend legacy circuit-switched and modern packet-routed operations require a new generation of more easily configurable network elements. The intersection of public and private networks is demanding that equipment manufacturers provide open standards-based equipment, capable of supporting multiple services.
  • Developer focus is turning away from simple data transport and moving towards applications that filter, reformulate and shape data.
  • On the network edge, growth opportunities are being driven by the growing demand for digital loop carriers, optical network units, integrated access devices, routers and media gateways, cable modem termination systems, DSL access multiplexers, radio network controllers and mobile switching centers.

CPU and system-level performance have become increasingly important across a wide range of communications applications. Services and functions include network routing and switching, virtual private network and firewall security, web caching and storage. Applications include policy management and policing, load balancing, VoIP gateways, and multi-function devices such as combination Web, news and e-mail servers. As functions converge on a device, the processing demands increase in a nonlinear fashion since many applications must cycle in real-time. Applications are also rapidly becoming more complex because the combination of depth and breadth of data processing and throughput, rather than stand-alone features, are important factors in the competitive landscape.

Communications appliances enable organizations to be more agile and minimize infrastructure costs while meeting the diverse requirements of emerging application demands including Network Attached Storage, Web caching, firewalls, virtual private networks, and Multi-Service Access Devices. This latter category of devices can address connection, security and storage needs within a single unit, including firewall, residential gateway and caching functions.

Network Overview: Embedded Intel® Architecture supports application processing throughout the network infrastructure

As seen in the diagram above, embedded Intel® Architecture (EIA) processors, chipsets, software initiatives and other building blocks provide the combination of performance, scalability, and software-based upgradability needed to meet the growing requirements of next-generation networks at multiple levels of the OSI Application Services Layer. In addition, EIA processors provide the power to handle compute-intensive control operations, including services and functions required by the application services layer such as routing and signaling protocols, policy control, Quality of Service (QoS) and security.

Solutions for Embedded and Communications Applications

Intel Architecture drives many traditional embedded applications such as interactive clients, point-of-sale, gaming and entertainment equipment, network attached storage, storage area networking, print imaging, medical, factory automation, measurement and testing. It also powers a broad spectrum of communications systems including telecommunications servers and blades, security appliances, media gateways, switches and routers, and wireless infrastructure equipment. The Intel® IXP4XX product line is designed to meet the needs of a variety of applications such as high-end residential gateways, small to medium enterprise routers, switches, security devices, mini-DSLAMs for multi-dwelling units, wireless access points, industrial control, networked printers and general embedded applications. These highly integrated processors utilize a unique, distributed processing architecture that features the performance of the Intel® XScale® core, and up-to-three Network Processor Engines (NPEs), enabling wire-speed performance at both the LAN and WAN ports.

In addition, Intel is committed to creating complete solutions.

To help developers meet application demands, Intel provides building blocks based on a range of platform options. Processors are available in multiple, scalable product lines that deliver performance, low power and integration. Embedded reference designs and configurations support developers in a variety of market segments and may be used off-the-shelf as a market-ready design, or further customized to support additional value-added features. Development kits are designed to minimize development efforts and facilitate quick time-to-market.

In addition, support for complete solutions can be found from members of the Intel® Communications Alliance, identified throughout this Solutions Guide. Strong ecosystem support includes a variety of hardware building blocks, operating systems, board and system solutions, middleware and tools. This community of developers and solutions providers support your success in the communications and embedded market segments with standards-based building blocks based on Intel Architecture and IXP4XX network processors. These scalable, modular and validated platform solutions can simplify outsourcing on multiple levels of integration-including silicon, software, boards and complete systems-and help reduce the time and expense of bringing a product to market.