Military applications such as satellite imaging or UAV sensor feeds require high-performance computing that uses parallel processing to solve complex computational challenges

By Steve Travis, Technical and
Commercial Adviser, Chassis Plans

Over the years, there has been a
growing need from the military for high-performance computing (HPC) platforms. In
the past, data collection activities that generate petabytes of data, such as
satellite imaging or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sensor feeds, could require
several hours to days for processing or were sent and processed at a far-off
location, losing valuable time. By supplying parallel-processing techniques for
solving complex computational problems in a ruggedized platform, the HPC
computer can be deployed to “in-theater” locations, and it has revolutionized
data capture and analysis for today’s warfighter.

High-performance computing (HPC) leverages
parallel rather than serial processing for running advanced software application
programs. It’s used to solve advanced mathematical calculations and perform data
processing by using computer modeling, simulation, and analysis. HPC systems
deliver sustained performance through their unique synchronal parallel-processing

Most HPC systems are built around a
single- or dual-CPU and one or more graphics processing units (GPUs). The GPUs
play a critical role in HPC performance because they can take on the most
extreme computation, leaving the CPU to do the behind-the-scenes work of
running the operating system and basic system applications.


Core differences between a CPU and GPU: Each
GPU can provide hundreds, or even thousands, more cores than a typical multi-core

CPUs are made up from several cores
that are best utilized for serial processing, while GPUs contain thousands of
small cores that are designed for processing threaded data in a large-scale
parallel architecture. Each of these cores can process small chunks of data in
parallel with the thousands of other cores at the same time. Complex
mathematical calculations can be broken down, solved, and then recombined
exponentially faster than a serial multi-core-based CPU computer. When combined
with software written to take advantage of parallel processing, performance
increases over serial processing can range anywhere from 12× to 40× and higher.


Chassis Plans HPC 300

The new Chassis Plans ruggedized rackmount 5U
enclosure can support up to 4× NVIDIA Tesla GPUs in a single package for high-performance
graphic processing.

Key advantages:

  • Geospatial intelligence: Using
    specifically designed software and an HPC system, it is possible to map large
    areas in seconds rather than days, as in the past. Mapping large areas such as
    cities involves advanced algorithms capable of extracting, representing,
    modeling, and interpreting satellite image features. The parallel-processing
    capability of a GPU-based system allows algorithms to process imagery at
    dramatic speeds. As an example, today’s GPU-based system and software can use
    satellite images to map a 200-square-mile city in detail, including all
    buildings and roads, in less than 20 seconds.
  • Video and
    image processing:
    An extremely fast
    dual-CPU computer can analyze a single HD (1080p) video stream at only about 15
    frames per second. By adding just one GPU to the server platform, it will
    accelerate the video-processing software by up to 12 times. This number can
    also be increased by adding additional GPUs to a computer. This boost in
    parallel-processing power can reduce the time required to analyze 24 hours of
    HD (1080p) video to under 1 hour. This enables the military to identify
    security threats or targets of interest at a much faster rate with more
  • Image enhancements:
    An HPC system can be utilized for
    image-enhancement applications that reveal previously hidden data in satellite
    or UAV images. Parallel processing allows for the use of real-time image
    stabilization and enhancement techniques to clean up video feeds. Having these
    computers deployed in the field versus having to transmit or transport data
    back to remote locations for further analysis adds a new dimension in which
    information can be processed and understood in real time.

The HPC system utilizes software for
image enhancements such as orthorectification (which modifies the image for
topographic relief and corrects for both the distortion of the lenses and
camera tilt) and “pan sharpening,” which generates high-quality, high-resolution
images by combining high-resolution black-and-white images with medium-resolution
color images. Both technologies require intense mathematical processes and
require super-computer-type processing power. With just CPUs alone, such
processes could take several minutes to hours to complete. An HPC/GPU solution
can process these algorithms up to 12× faster for orthorectification and up to
40× faster for pan sharpening compared with a CPU-only-based system.

Ruggedized HPC

For the last 18 years, Chassis Plans has designed ruggedized computers that meet
military standards for field-deployable equipment. Areas of ruggedization focus
on shock, vibration, temperature, and blowing sand and dust. All system
enclosures are manufactured from aluminum for its strength as well as weight-saving
properties. A sealable front door protects system controls and includes a field-replaceable/-cleanable
air filter.

Internally, a hold-down bracket
secures all GPU boards from multiple points, keeping the boards stabilized in
their sockets. Cable assemblies are carefully routed to ensure that there is no
chafing, and service loops are built in to avoid tension on cable connections
and for maximum air-flow routing.


Chassis Plans 5U HPC

The new Chassis Plans M5U-22 high-performance
computer is based on a ruggedized 5U enclosure that is designed to meet the
environmental requirements for a wide range of ground, vehicle, shipboard, and
aircraft installations.

Used to accurately control the system
temperatures, Chassis Plan’s patented Syscool thermal management system consists of a thermal management board, high
mean-time-between-failure (MTBF) cooling fans, and a network of thermistors
that monitor the computer’s internal temperature in real time and adjust fan
speeds accordingly.

SWaP advantage

SWaP, a military acronym for “size,
weight, and power,” are very important product features for today’s military. By
introducing the latest GPU technologies into a ruggedized platform, there are
several SWaP advantages possible. All three elements of SWaP are affected by
reducing the required number of deployed computers for an application, which frees
up valuable rack space.


This reduction in physical computers then
lowers the overall platform weight, which could mean a reduction of hundreds of
pounds. Power savings also can be reduced by thousands of watts. When comparing
size, weight, and power advantages, an HPC configuration is the clear winner.

With dedicated engineering and product
support, Chassis Plans can provide platform solutions based on the customer’s
specific application. This process begins by understanding a customer’s environmental
requirements for applications ranging from ground-based vehicles and shipboard
to aircraft applications.

a variety of mechanical and electrical changes and upgrades to several COTS
hardware paths available, a customer consults with the engineering team to custom-tailor
a HPC solution that maximizes performance, ruggedization, and price points. The
final system has a five-year warranty.


Steve Travis serves as
technical and commercial adviser for Chassis Plans, where he is responsible for
marketing activities focusing on ruggedized computer and LCD display products
for military and industrial applications. Steve has more than 24 years of
experience as an entrepreneur, in technical sales, product management,
marketing communications, and leadership roles. Steve currently resides in San
Diego, California.

The article originally
appeared at the Military
& Aerospace Designline