Rugged IT Suppliers: From Mouse to Data Center

SPECIAL REPORT: Rugged IT


By Jeff Erlichman, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media

Warfighters, law enforcement and first responders set the real life specifications. Engineers then build to meet the ruggedized needs of the specific environment.

Ask a computer user to say the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “rugged”, they often respond “Toughbook”.

That's for good reason: the Toughbook® by Panasonic has been a proven notebook serving the “rugged IT” needs of military and civilian users for as long as notebooks have been around.

But today, Panasonic is not alone in the rugged notebook market. Companies such as Dell, DRS, GammaTech Computer, GD-Itronix, Getac, HP, Lenovo and Medtronic and others offer a wide variety of “business rugged”, “semi-rugged”, “fully-rugged”, “vehicle -mounted rugged” and “ultra-portable rugged” laptops.

But while the notebook is the poster child for rugged IT, it is far from the only component in today's converged computing and communications environment that may have to meet ruggedized requirements.

Rugged IT operates in a less than ideal environment – one where environmental or hazardous conditions can fluctuate by the minute, or where power supplies may be limited or non-existent.

In the future as rugged technologies become more commonplace, government customers will have an even greater need for better performance and functionality, as well as seamless integration with existing technologies. And in this future, buyers will come to rely on more specialized technology built on what a typical user's environment is, rather than a “one size fits all” type of environment.

Because rugged IT and mobility seem to go hand-in-hand, many government IT planners and buyers are approaching rugged as not a single piece of equipment, but as an end-to-end system, with end-to-end requirements which requires end-to-end testing.

Beyond The Notebook

Today IT buyers can find rugged versions of everyday peripherals such as monitors, keyboards, mice and printers, cables along with Data Centers designed for field deployments and integrated mobile digital video systems.

For practically every component, there is a rugged version. Here are just a few of the rugged products readily available to government customers that 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media saw at the recent FOSE 2009 and GovSec 2009 tradeshows.

I/O – Keyboards/Mice/Cable/Printers

If you need to wash your keyboard or mouse under running water or immerse it in anti-bacterial solutions, no problem. With sealed keys, washable and waterproof keyboards and mice are manufactured to meet IP66 and NEMA4X standards, plus they are chemical resistant. They are designed to work in a variety of medical and harsh environments. Check out products from Unotron (www.unotron.com) and Man & Machine (www.man-machine.com).

At the same time, cables and connections (e.g. USBs) also need to meet rugged standards. So, there are specs for CAT 3, CAT 5, CAT 7, HDMI cables and others along with other standards for module stacks and other components. An excellent summary of these standards is available at: http://www.samtec.com/product_charts/industry_standards_rio.pdf.

These cables have to be protected by Raceways and Keyed Connectors that are intruder proof, mistake proof and practically bullet-proof according to Wiremold/Legrand, producers of Data-Fense Secure Raceway Systems. These solutions help avoid unauthorized connections and system misuse. Learn more at www.wiremold.com.


Printers

Looking for a printer that is tough in the air and on the ground, then check out the American made TP-4429 Printer from VT Miltope. According to the company it is designed in compliance with ARINC-740 standards for reliable operation in airborne cockpit applications.

In normal operation, the TP-4429 prints 10 characters per inch in 40 columns at a rate of 160 lines per minute in text mode. High-resolution characters are printed using a 100 dpi print head, generating a hard copy on 4.5” paper. The TP-4429 has a paper cutting edge to facilitate tear off at the end of print and the front panel indicators provide visible viewing under all cockpit lighting conditions. Learn more at www.miltope.com/profile.html.

Mobile Data Centers Data

Centers are usually found in raised-floor, temperature controlled brick and mortar environments. But what if you have to bring a Data Center computing power to a less than ideal situation – say a natural disaster – where dealing with shock and vibration are the norm, where rain and mud must be countered. And that's not even taking into account power availability.

The MobiRack™ provides mobile, all-in-one Data Center capabilities for field deployments said Saeed Atashie, Director of Server Products at Rackable Systems in an interview with 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media.

Atashie says the MobiRack delivers compact, light weight-depth server and storage solutions that can handle AC power disruptions with battery back-ups and is flexible and scalable in its configuration (5U to 16U configurations).

Atashie explains the MobiRack is a custom built solution designed to meet individual needs. “Rugged is in the eyes of the beholder,” he said. “You need to take into account shock, vibration, dust, temperature, the weight of equipment housed, server dimensions and shipping requirements. Then there is the element of mobility and how fast it needs to be deployed and dismantled.”

He counseled government IT professionals that “as a buyer, the clearer you are in your definitions the better your vendor is able to help you – no matter what type of product you are looking to buy.” Learn more at www.rackable.com.

Integrated Mobile Digital Video System

Able to work with any PC, the Toughbook® Arbitrator, according to Panasonic, “is a rugged and mobile digital video system – specifically engineered for the demanding law enforcement environments personnel face every day.”

It is installed in the vehicles of the Caldwell County Sheriff's Office in Charlotte, NC, where the Arbitrator records, stores and transfers files of events in and around a police emergency vehicle. The system is used first as an event recorder and later to solve crimes, resolve disputes, assist in training and mitigate lawsuits.

There's no more tape that you have to take out and replace or enter into evidence. The Arbitrator is very simple. It downloads the data directly from the car to a server inside your department and is readily accessible when you need it. It's instantaneous.

The system is enclosed in a full magnesium alloy case that is temperature, vibration, dust and splash resistant. It provides officers with a nearly 70-degree wide-angle lens and infrared technology allows for viewing even when it is dark. For more information, visit www.panasonic.com/toughbook/arbitrator.