White Paper: Power Tolerant Rugged Computing Systems

By Earle Foster and Antonio Martin, Sealevel Systems, Inc.

Designing a computer system capable of reliable operation in hostile, sometimes remote locations requires careful attention to detail. Wide operating temperature range, vibration tolerance, and elimination of moving parts and cables are all important considerations. In fact, these topics are widely discussed in industrial and military trade publications. However, designing for tolerance to power disturbances – unexpected outages, brownouts, voltage spikes, and wide voltage ranges – can be equally vital to the success of critical applications.

Power tolerant hardware is more important than ever. Many critical applications run today on low-cost, full function operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Linux as opposed to specialized operating systems of the past. Today’s operating systems are built for generic hardware and employ many optimizations that can cause data loss and corruption of the storage disk if power is abruptly interrupted to the system. For example, the contents of several files can be “scrambled” and mixed together, in addition to some information simply disappearing. Fortunately, with proper forethought and planning, hardware designs can address this issue to improve system reliability.

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