Up until recently, Kontron's main business was supplying embedded boards and integrated computing platforms. These range from smaller computing modules to fully integrated systems used by various OEMs for the industrial automation, energy, telecommunications, infotainment transportation, defense and medical device markets. Gross revenues for this German company exceeded 500 million Euros in 2010.
After a long-time partnership with Intel in designing products using its silicon, Kontron acquired Intel's Communication Rackmount Server operation in late 2008. This group has many years of expertise in carrier-grade (Network Equipment Building System, NEBS; and European Telecommunications Standards Institute, ETSI) and mission-critical server technology, including high-density mechanical and electronic design, thermal and vibration analysis, and implementation of high-standards of secure and uninterruptible operations.
"These Kontron rackmount servers are part of the communications business unit, which also designs carrier-grade ATCA (Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture) and MicroTCA hardware platforms based on an industry-wide open standard specifications," said Richard Poirier, Kontron's Communications Business Unit Manager. "Together they target the global network and telecom equipment manufacturers who design network infrastructure solutions for broadband and 3G/4G wireless carriers, and network data centers for carriers and large enterprises."
Those types of customers typically demand speed of design and execution, as they operate in a cut-throat world where speed to market is vital. To be able to meet telecom needs, therefore, the company spends more than 30 percent of its revenues on R&D.
These aren't the type of products you can purchase individually in Best Buy, however. Nearly all Kontron clients are some type of OEM or ISV that must outsource their hardware requirements, especially when resources are tight and in-house development is prohibitive, said Poirier.
Here are some of the products available:
Computer on Modules
Computer on Modules (COMs) range in size and footprints. These smaller, integrated COM modules are used in multiple industries where specialized embedded computing is required.
Single Board Computers and Motherboards
Single Board Computers (SBCs) are designed to work out of the box, allowing development to begin immediately and the final application to get to market quickly.
Systems and Platforms
Kontron offers a variety of industrial rackmount computers and enclosures, industrial chassis, industrial panel PCs, industrial LCD monitors and industrial flat panels, plus a selection of commercial-off-the-shelf communication rackmount servers and open-standard AdvancedTCA, MicroTCA and VME pre-integrated platforms.
All are supported with various types of software support, such as Board Support Packages for operating systems like Windows 7, Linux and VxWorks. This includes all drivers and support of all hardware features. On the hypervisor/virtualization side, tools are validated with different OSes if the CPU supports hyper-threading or multicore processing.
"The benefits for customers are a considerably reduced time-to-market due to out-of-the-box HW/SW solutions, increased software quality and reduced cost of ownership," said Poirier.
Let's take a closer look at some of the specific server products
Kontron's Communication Rack Mount Server
The Communication Rack Mount Server (CRMS) team has been designing carrier-grade rack mount servers for more than 10 years, said Poirier. They meet or exceed the telecommunication industry's NEBS Level 3 compliance standard and the additional requirements imposed by major carriers such as Verizon and AT&T. During such testing, servers are dropped onto concrete, subjected to earthquake conditions, struck with high voltages, operated at extreme temperatures and altitude, subjected to corrosive contaminants, and set on fire. If they survive this "normal day at the office," they are deemed NEBS-compliant.
But it isn't only NEBS tools the company makes. A second line of ruggedized servers are used in several other environments, such as media streaming servers for IPTV services, network intrusion detection, IP gateways, SIP App Server, media broadcast and IP-PBX servers.
"All CRMS products are Intel Xeon-based and come with long-life availability, a short-depth footprint, larger memory capability, carrier-grade manageability, redundant power AC or DC, hardware and software RAID and other storage options, plus availability in 1U and 2U footprints," said Poirier. "All are designed to maximize uptime, performance and reliability."
With so many irons in the fire, where is Kontron heading in the future? It has begun new product ventures into the Smart Grid and Machine to Machine (M2M) markets.
Kontron just introduced its M2M Smart Services Developer Kit, which was co-developed with Intel and will enable M2M OEM developers to significantly reduce their time-to-market.
"We also recently signed a long-term technology agreement in the smart grid market space with the largest operator of energy supply networks in Russia," said Poirier.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).