Rugged, robust, secure, and dependable are words you’d more likely associate with the latest all-terrain double-cab, rather than a data server – until recently that is.

By Bevan Lock, Lenovo Data Centre Group solutions expert

There have been a lot of changes in the way data is managed over the past five to 10 years. The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) has resulted in specific environmental demands causing changes to the way we need to process, manage and store our data.

With the advent of Edge servers in response to these demands, now the places we can go are limited only by our imagination.

A capacity for change

The advent of IoT has really shaken things up and made us all look at business differently. Everything is ready to connect, whether it’s hard-wired in, or syncing via WiFi, or using 5G to stream.

With the push to connect everything, the volume of data that is required to be sent back and forth is escalating too, and so our capacity requirements are changing as well.

We’re living in an exciting time where we can do things differently and offer services that we couldn’t have 10 years ago. It’s making a difference in how we operate, and it’s presenting new opportunities in sectors like retail, buildings agriculture; logistics; manufacturing; medicine; and security to name a few.

All this connectivity, and the data being generated, has resulted in a need for server-class computing solutions at the edge of organisations’ networks — outside of data centres — closer to where things are happening, such as the manufacturer’s shop floor; or remote locations such as border posts; or game-reserve entry posts; retail environments; or mobile medical labs.

These physical locations prove problematic for traditional datacentre-class equipment, which needs to operate in very specific conditions, and which is too large, and power hungry; or for PC-based equipment that is not powerful enough to run enterprise-level applications required to process all the data.

That’s why we’ve been focusing on creating a server-based solution that fits in between these two extremes.

Creating solutions suitable for operating on the edge

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), recommends that data centres maintain environmental temperatures of between 18 to 27 degrees Celsius, and an optimal relative humidity of 50 percent.

If temperatures exceed the recommended 27 degrees, there is a risk of server failure and data loss. As soon as you take a traditional server outside of a data-centre environment, you’re putting it at risk of failure.

Now, consider some of the environments in which you may need the additional computing capacity because of IoT today. Manufacturers’ shop floors are likely to be dusty, with limited space, and increased vibrations and noise levels. Border posts into the rest of Africa, or game-reserve facilities are going to have higher temperatures and humidity, will also be high dust-zones, and may have additional challenges in terms of consistent power supply. Mobile medical labs may find themselves out in rural, off-grid environments with no access to electricity to run their all-important tests. Retail environments don’t often have the space to dedicate to a server environment, they are high footfall areas, so dust and dirt will be an issue, as well as the possibility of being bumped, and static is often an issue in such environments.

Lenovo’s ThinkSystem SE350 is rugged, robust, secure, and dependable. It is compactly designed to fit into smaller spaces, and can be rack-mounted, stacked on a shelf, or wall-mounted. It can run on AC, or DC power — ideally suited for locations without stable electricity supply.

It can withstand 30Gs of shock, and temperatures up to 55 degrees Celsius.

It has built-in dust filtration that will warn you when its’ filter needs to be replaced, and it was designed to hold storage internally to prevent dirt getting inside the server too. That’s important because traditional servers will need to be repeatedly serviced, or have their power supplies replaced, as the fans will keep getting clogged outside of a pristine data-centre environment.

When it comes to connectivity, there might not be wired Ethernet connections available. To address this, the SE350 supports both WiFi and LTE connectivity network.

There is little security on a traditional server, as it is housed in a secure data centre.

As it will be located outside of the data centre, the SE350 has security specifically built into it. It will warn you if it is opened, and the storage is encrypted so if something happens, you can remotely remove the encryption key, and the encrypted data will no longer visibly exist on that unit.

It will only reappear when you put the encryption key back. It also has a built-in Kensington cable-slot to physically secure it to its’ location.

The SE350 has all solid-state storage, there are no moving parts which could be damaged through knocks or falls. The servers also have full remote management capabilities, and if it looks like anything is about to fail, the system will generate a notice and send it to you.

This means you can pre-emptively fix something, rather than dealing with it failing when you can least afford it.

A solution primed for Africa

Given average off-site conditions across the continent, whether it’s shunning the dust on a cross-country trip across bumpy rural backroads; staying cool in the heat of the midday sun, or coping perfectly with the humidity in coastal regions, this rugged server solution is primed for Africa.

The ThinkSystem SE350 is available now in South Africa.