12 Keys To Rugged Reliability

SPECIAL REPORT: Rugged IT 


By Jeff Erlichman, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media

After canvassing civilian and military rugged IT users, SMEs and manufacturers on the phone, at FOSE 2009 and GovSec 2009, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media offers a dozen steps to rugged reliability.

1. Decide Whether You Need Rugged At All
You need to begin at the beginning. The litmus test is how the product is going to be used in real-life situations. Is it going to be used in a stable, stationery environment? Is mobility a factor, where it might be subject to some bumps and bruises? Or is it going to be used in a truly hazardous environment where it can't fail because lives depend on it? Make an objective decision. The more rugged, the more money you will spend.

2. Engage Your Stakeholders
It sounds so basic, but getting buy-in from all the stakeholders and involving actual users up front in the decision-making and communication processes can make a world of difference. You'll get feedback on system upgrades, training and support so the system can be managed dynamically from the get-go.

3. Seek Suppliers You Can Trust
Again, common sense prevails.  If you don't know the brand, seek out proof that they can deliver on what they promise. The Army's LTC William Geesey is more blunt: “Don't take a vendor's word for the quality of a rugged product. Ask for detailed test results and, if possible, a copy of the test plans itself.”

4. Make Sense Of The Specs
Suppliers will tell you it meets this or that spec. The two U.S. government standards cover the rugged specification are MIL-STD-810F (or “mil spec”) and IP (Ingress Protection).  While there are many elements to and levels of “mil spec” standards, most rugged notebooks should have at least an IP54 rating, which means they're protected against dust particles and water. Buy only as much rugged as you need.

5. Look For Objective Measures
Spend as if it's your own money. You wouldn't make a major purchase without some type of Third Party certification. Ask if they are certified in the application you need. And who is doing their testing? Does it represent real world use? Is it independent? Seek out objective measures such as Endpoint Technologies notebook ruggedness scale. Get documentation.

6. Hands On, Hands On
You are going to be paying a lot of extra dough, so try before you buy. Put it through real-world user testing.  If you can't try, get testimonials from others who have used the product in
similar situations. See for yourself how that notebook works after being dropped from three feet (the standard test).

7. Talk Total Cost of Ownership
Unless lives are at stake, you really need to make sure your purchase passes the financial smell test. Do the math. Figure out the TCO. Examine your complete project life cycle: acquisition, operation and disposal.

8. Screen and Display Visibility
Can the display be seen in direct sunlight and at nighttime? For a laptop, ask yourslef if this is a critical function.

9. Processor Power and Speed
Does the equipment have sufficient power for today's applications and for future planned/ unplanned system use? Will processor-intensive applications such as mapping, GIS or GPS be used in the future?

10. System Flexibility
Is the architecture open and upgradeable? You do not want to be tied into something proprietary.

11. Storage/Data Capacity
Is the capacity of the ruggedized hard drive or flash memory sufficient for today's and tomorrow's applications? Will maps, drawings, schematics and manuals be put on line? Make sure you have the storage you need.

12. Power Management
For any computer going into the field and not staying in a service vehicle, are there tools and options to extend the processing time in the field? Are there configurable standby and power suspension modes? Can the batteries be hot-swapped while the computer continues to operate?