Sustainability starts with design

by Zeljko Loncaric, Marketing Engineer at congatec

Sustainability has become a megatrend these days. “Fridays for Future” is just one prominent example of the ongoing change in mindset that is taking place.

Even during the COVID-19 crisis, sustainability has remained in the spotlight. Just look at Germany – a country whose economy heavily depends on the automotive industry – which has decided to stop funding sales of conventional combustion engine cars and is looking at incentives to boost low emission vehicles instead.

Whether this will prove a good idea or not, it shows that sustainable technology is a trend that is getting more important across nearly all industries and has been a key driver for innovation, including the embedded world.

There’s no denying that electronics and embedded computing are not really sustainable by themselves, but they can help to reduce emissions. They deliver the power to accumulate data analytics know-how for weather forecasts. They control green energy with smart grids and solar energy stations. They help optimize traffic flow by self-adapting speed limits and traffic lights, as well as control the upcoming autonomous vehicles powered by green energy. The list goes on and on, but is only a fig leaf if we don’t think about improvements in the technology itself.

There have been many technological advances in the past, such as Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), ever increasing energy efficiency, striving for longer life cycles and the focus on social responsibility along supply chains.

But there is ample room for improvements that could make embedded computing designs even more sustainable. Take the increased sustainability of edge computing hardware, for example. We have recently noticed that data centers are being updated by replacing entire rack systems. Just to give you some perspective: worldwide shipments of servers grew by 14.0% year over year to just over 3.4 million units in 4Q19[i]. Those computer boards, or blades, are monolithic. If processor performance is no longer sufficient, the entire board must be exchanged, which produces a fair amount of electronic waste.

Computer-on-Modules and Server-on-Modules are game changers minimizing the waste and cost when upgrading servers. The waste factor is considerably reduced when the actual board can remain in use, and all that needs to be discarded is the outdated module. On the economic side of things, for example, server vendor Christman expects to reduce next generation edge server upgrade costs by 50% with Computer-on-Modules. This is particularly attractive if one considers the growing popularity of pay-per-use and server-as-a-service offerings. The goal of server vendors in the past was the wasteful renewal of hardware. Now they can save costs on performance upgrades. The trend towards digitization and a subscription economy means a tremendous shift will be taking place. Now, the smallest possible investment in the next generation, lowest TCO, and highest ROI are the goals of server-as-a-service providers – and it can be argued that they all play into the trend towards greater sustainability.

Industrial vendors can also benefit from such a modular approach. They can make updates even when the processor is discontinued. We are aware of applications that continue to retrofit decades old carrier boards with more power-efficient processors, as higher performance processors are no longer in demand. From a sustainability perspective, modules have the potential to turn even old technology into more environmentally friendly green technology. It is somewhat comparable to the light bulb industry switching to LED technology.

And the opportunities don’t stop there. If all boards were designed with Computer-on-Modules, which is already a common design principle, we could even see the evolution of a second -hand market. Modules that are no longer used for their original application could be reused instead of discarded, such as in equipment that requires ultra long-term availability. We are all aware of the mountains of electronic waste produced each year. Computer-on-Modules have the potential to reduce this chronic generation of waste. Even if re-use is not an option, one should remember that carrier designs always have a smaller number of layers and conductor tracks, which reduce both the economical and ecological footprint of an embedded computing design.

Unfortunately, not all engineers are on-board yet for adaptation of this design principle. But one only needs to look to the market for an indication of what the future holds. Recent research carried out by IHS Markit shows a potential market growth of 33% for Computer-on-Modules by 2023, which is only for standard boards. Full custom designs are not even included in this projection. It’s clear from this data that the full potential of Computer-on-Modules is much higher.

With the cutting-edge COM-HPC specification just officially released, as well as an entire new range of processors and existing embedded mid-class performance server processors for the industrial edges, we see a unique opportunity to make embedded computing even greener than in the past by catering to new application areas in times when sustainability is becoming more and more important. And the edge definitely needs this, as we don’t know how many add-on tasks customers will require at the edge for situational awareness, collaboration, IIoT predictive maintenance, and Industry 4.0 communication with counterparts. Not to mention 5G, which is coming up fast.

Sustainability in design helps customers address future needs right from the start. That’s why we feel the trend in sustainability makes computer and server modules even more attractive now than they were in the past. It will be interesting to see how the percentage of Computer-on-Modules compared to other form factors will change in the future. I predict that Computer-on-Modules will experience significant gains. And that’s in addition to the fact that Computer-on-Modules are currently the most important market in the embedded sector. They rank even higher than what is often found in server designs, such as standalone boards, full custom designs, Mini-ITX and EATX. The many additional benefits compared to full custom designs include better scalability, easy upgrades across several processor generations and higher design security.

When it comes to preparing for maximum sustainability in the high-performance embedded future, modular designs will be the bullet train that takes you there and Computer-on-Modules are your ticket to ride.

 

Computer-on-Modules are already the most important market in the embedded sector and are expected to experience a market growth of 33% by 2023.

COM -HPC Server Modules with their numerous PCIe lanes and high-performance Ethernet interfaces are an ideal platform for high-performance modular edge servers of the next generation.

congatec has introduced the conga-HPC/cTLU, its first COM-HPC computer-on-module. With its high performance design and latest interfaces such as PCIe Gen 4, it will enable up-to-date designs for decades to come.

Computer-on-Modules offer embedded applications many advantages for high sustainability.

 

About congatec

congatec is a rapidly growing technology company focusing on embedded and edge computing products. The high-performance computer modules are used in a wide range of applications and devices in industrial automation, medical technology, transportation, telecommunications and many other verticals. Backed by controlling shareholder DBAG Fund VIII, a German midmarket fund focusing on growing industrial businesses, congatec has the financing and M&A experience to take advantage of these expanding market opportunities. congatec is the global market leader in the computer-on-modules segment with an excellent customer base from start-ups to international blue chip companies. Founded in 2004 and headquartered in Deggendorf, Germany, the company reached sales of 126 million US dollars in 2019. More information is available on our website at www.congatec.com or via LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.

 

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