Embedded server solutions challenge the ‘one size fits all’ approach

Embedded server solutions challenge the ‘one size fits all’ approach

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In commercial circles, embedded technologies are naturally thought of in regard to client-side hardware. What usually comes to mind are embedded devices like retail POS systems, medical equipment, diskless terminals and rugged industrial HMIs. While the advantages of using Windows Embedded are well-known for client devices, most people remain unaware that there are significant benefits to be gained on the server side, too.
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The Microsoft family provides a proven infrastructure for the enterprise. Windows Server is part of a rich ecosystem encompassing tools like Visual Studio, .Net frameworks and SQL server and support through the MSDN developer network, developer community and high value partner ecosystem. Client applications use technologies like Windows Embedded Standard 7 and Windows XP Embedded to provide componentised operating systems that have an optimal footprint with low licensing costs. Yet, all too often, the embedded client ends up connecting to a one-size-fits-all standard Windows server, which provides services the application doesn’t need at unnecessary expense.

Windows Embedded Server restores the balance by providing a family of full Microsoft software products (e.g. Windows Server) with tools and licensing tailored for embedded usage. Thanks to seamless active directory integration, common application development and management tools, it brings enterprise-level interoperability at often significantly lower pricing than the classic option.

There are savings in both up-front cost and total cost of ownership. Windows Embedded Server products can address many of the issues facing developers, systems integrators and IT departments when implementing server appliances. In particular, there is the challenge of finding an operating system that minimises costs, yet is still easy to integrate into enterprise environments. Regulatory compliance is another key issue for server manufacturers, and many projects, such as those in healthcare, defence and transportation, specify long term sourcing lifetimes. The long product availability schedule (15 years from core product launch) of Embedded Server gives integrators and developers a predictable, stable platform and lowers the supply risks involved in long-term contracts.

For many enterprise customers, the requirement is for a turnkey solution that includes hardware, an operating system (OS), and pre-installed applications. Windows Embedded Server allows manufacturers to activate the OS and provide full recovery media, including the embedded application, thus allowing rapid deployment at end-user sites.

Improved efficiency with virtualisation
As well as lower cost, interoperability and ease of deployment, OEMs need software features that allow them to offer differentiated leading edge solutions to their customers. In many cases, this is delivered in the form of fixed function embedded devices, for example, database servers, analytics engines or network attached storage devices.

With its built-in server virtualisation technology Hyper-V, Windows Server 2008 R2 for Embedded Systems helps users get more out of their hardware. Virtual operating systems allow new functionality to run alongside legacy applications, all the while ensuring workload isolation. Different versions of Windows and other operating systems can run on the same hardware. Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualisation augments existing virtual machine management as well as addressing specific challenges around server (live) migration. Solutions are scalable to meet the most demanding workloads with support for up to 64 logical processors as well as for failover clustering. It all helps to deliver high-availability and highly efficient solutions. For NAS appliances, Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 is a headless (without monitor, keyboard, or mouse) dedicated file and print server operating system based on Windows Server 2008 R2.

Designed for dependability, it delivers the ability to store and manage large amounts of data, while new functionality such as de-duplications reduces wasted storage space. Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 can leverage the Microsoft iSCSI Software Target 3.3 for block-level storage, with advanced availability features such as replication and clustering. iSCSI target is offered at no charge, enabling provision of storage-as-a-service to myriad diskless devices such as ruggedised tablets, surveillance cameras or scanners. IT managers can utilise existing storage in a network through iSCSI. SQL Server for Embedded Systems provides a platform for data management and analysis, optimised for use wherever large amounts of data are involved, for example medical records, retail POS and kiosks, industrial automation, or gaming. New functionality was introduced in the SQL Server 2008 R2 version, making it possible to output KPI scenarios and diagrams.

Solutions for vertical applications
Embedded Server features are especially relevant to OEMs developing server appliances for vertical applications. Examples include retail, video surveillance and security, medical equipment (imaging, diagnostics, records management), manufacturing, power utility management, network equipment and telecom businesses.

In the retail sector, a typical environment would use applications such as SQL Server on top of a Windows Embedded Server platform, coupled with Windows Embedded POSReady software on store clients, to create an end-to-end store operations and data management solution. Typical security and surveillance systems can be implemented with Windows Compact software for edge devices (IP cameras, video encoders, access control devices), then Embedded Server OS for Network Video Management Systems which include recording capability and associated management systems.

Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 provides an ideal platform for long term storage along with IP camera image management and analysis. Larger systems could be overseen by a Control centre using Windows Embedded Enterprise. Microsoft Embedded software also provides a complete solution for the healthcare sector, using Embedded Servers to run medical diagnostics and analysis, SQL Server to efficiently manage patient records, and Storage Server to provide the volume storage required for scan images and other vital data. All of this provides the back-end for embedded clients such as staff workstations or medical tablet PCs.

In the Industrial Automation space, Windows Embedded Server represents the ideal platform for server appliances on the factory floor, and also in the control network where the server manages, monitors and analyses production lines. Microsoft SQL for Embedded Systems offers a highly cost-effective database system for dynamic manufacturing environments, enabling real-time analytics for factory management. Diskless devices on the factory floor typically use Windows Storage Server with iSCSI Target Software to provide storage – without the added cost of numerous client access licenses (CALS).

Tailored licensing brings benefits at every level
There is a specific Embedded Server operating system solution to support telecoms usage models. This special Microsoft licensing provides the full Windows Server OS in a low cost, CAL-free offering suitable for telco-based business. The combination of Telco Embedded OS with SQL Server software gives a complete solution for inbound and outbound call centre management. Windows Server for Embedded Telecommunications can also be configured as a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Server to deploy low cost IP telephony systems.

Business support and operations support servers can use Hyper-V virtualisation to consolidate hardware and increase server usage, resulting in lower lifetime cost of ownership – all this with no server CALs. Requiring no CALs, the ‘Workgroup’ version of Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 is a very cost effective and simple platform for a small business or departmental storage, typically for 25 users or fewer. The ‘Standard’ version is designed for mid-sized business where high capacity storage is required on a single server. The unlimited number of device/user connections possible under this no-CAL license makes it highly cost-effective in busy environments.

And it’s still a zero-CAL solution moving up to the Enterprise version, which supports appliances with up to eight physical processors, 2 Terabytes of RAM and is suitable for clustered storage. There are three Embedded versions of Windows Server 2008 R2: Essentials, Standard and Enterprise. The lowest cost Windows Server 2008 R2 for Embedded Systems, Essentials, is designed for a headless (without keyboard, mouse or monitor) task-oriented server and this license requires no CALs – ideal for digital signage, system update servers, anti-virus, etc.

The Standard version is designed for appliances with up to four physical processors and, with Hyper-V, up to two virtual embedded operating systems, plus a physical OS for management and servicing of the virtual embedded appliances. The Enterprise option takes virtualisation to the max, catering for up to eight physical processors and four virtual OS’ and is suitable for clustering. If choosing amongst these options sounds confusing, fortunately there is help at hand.

A new microsite, www.avnet-embedded.eu/server/ has been established that not only informs developers about the various products and their applicability, but also provides online tools to guide them through the selection process. With the support provided by specialist partners and the world-wide development community, IT teams will be quickly on the way to delivering savings and benefits through every stage in the IT lifecycle – from design to build, deploy, operate and maintain with Windows Embedded Server.

Author profile: James Stannard is the Embedded Server Business Development Manager for Avnet Embedded

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