Rugged Conditions Call for Rugged IT


By Jeff Erlichman, 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media

The old axiom “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” means that all the components – hardware, software and peripherals – and all the connections, cables and networks have to be equally rugged.

At the end of the chain, in the end users' hands are notebooks, tablets and PDAs. How well they work under fire depends not just on how hardy these computers are, but how everything in the IT and communications
system works together.
This is not ground breaking news. Every IT system depends on all the components working together seamlessly to be operational. But looking at rugged IT as an IT system rather than just individual pieces of hardware is what DHS Science & Technology Directorate, Director Dr. David Boyd and CTO Luke Klein-Berndt are advocating. According to them, rugged IT systems are end-to-end systems, with end-to-end requirements that require end-to-end testing.

Since soldiers may need to set up camp one day and tear it down and move to a new location the next, it is imperative that most rugged IT equipment be able to be deployed quickly and easily.
Klein-Berndt told 1105 Custom Media it's not rocket science. “Simply if you take a component from a humid, warm environment and put it into a cold, dry environment it needs to be designed to withstand that. And so does the system that the component is a part of.”

That means meeting or exceeding applicable MIL-STD-810F and/or IP (Ingress Protection) standards for civilian, military and medical applications. That means hardware components must work in extreme temperatures, be dustproof and waterproof, be impervious to being dropped and resist shocks and vibration – especially when they are being transported.

Rugged Mobility
As the Army's Product Manager for Transportation Information Systems (TIS), Jeremy Heirs told 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media that his organization is responsible for providing and sustaining transportation and distribution IT solutions that enable the Army to move personnel and equipment from their home-station to their destination and back.

Since soldiers may need to set up camp one day and tear it down and move to a new location the next, it is imperative that most rugged IT equipment be able to be deployed quickly and easily.

All TIS applications can be accessed through the Internet.  However, two of them – TC-AIMS II and AALPS – are also offered in a “stand-alone” configuration where they can be installed on a standard Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS) laptop said Heirs.  

This laptop configuration allows users to use these applications when connectivity to the Internet is not possible and is the configuration most PM TIS customers rely on today. To accompany the laptops, PM TIS also fields an “Interrogator Set” consisting of a label printer, portable data terminals, and a Radio Frequency (RF) interrogator that allows users to print shipping labels and scan the barcodes on those labels said Heirs.

For most of its requirements Heirs said PM TIS has found that standard COTS equipment satisfies the requirements for most of its customers.

“However, for customers that require access to PM TIS products in extreme environments,” explained Heirs. “PM TIS fields a Portable Deployment Kit (PDK) that is a self-contained structurally reinforced kit containing the standard laptop and interrogator set hardware, as well as a communications package that provides connectivity in austere environments.”

When it comes to buying rugged technology, Heirs advised that when seeking rugged IT capabilities first understand what is available on the market before developing the RFP.  “Technology is constantly evolving
and unless solid market research is done before a solicitation is released, one never knows how current technology can satisfy both their current and future requirements.”

“We believe that rugged IT technologies will continue to evolve,” Heirs continued. “Generally purchasing rugged IT requires a customer to make tradeoffs between cost, mobility (e.g., weight, size, etc), and overall performance (e.g., processing power).  But as rugged IT technologies emerge, we believe these tradeoffs will decrease making rugged IT more mobile and affordable.”

He urged potential buyers to stay tuned with industry to monitor trends that may impact your future purchasing decisions.  

“Planning now for a lifecycle refresh of your current rugged IT capabilities three years down the road may help you to save money and/or maximize the capabilities you will receive in the future,” Heirs counseled.