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During my study I have to do a student research project about server systems under extreme environmental conditions. Unfortunately I have really no experience with such systems.

I already did some research, but not really successful ones. I only found some IP 68 racks, but I don't want to limit my research on server racks.

Does anyone has experience with such systems? I would need some cue words to search for or some references I can use. Maybe someone has some information about how to run a server in desert, in pole regions or even underwater.

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Why the geolocation tag? –  phoebus Oct 14 '09 at 6:40
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If I remember correctly, 486 processors are still produced today (well, at least 5 years ago) that have been ruggedised to the point where they can run in insane environmental conditions, like -100 to +500 celcius or somesuch crazy numbers. If I can find a link I'll post it as an answer, rather than conjecture. –  Mark Henderson Oct 14 '09 at 6:55
    
finally! i knew that cpu fan on my 486 was pointless, which is why i never fixed it when it broke –  Nick Kavadias Oct 14 '09 at 7:36
    
If you can provide more detail on exactly what sort of information you are chasing I might be able to be more specific. –  Sam Oct 14 '09 at 9:54
    
@Farseeker - I believe they are still widely used by NASA in satellites and space shuttles. –  MDMarra Jul 13 '10 at 1:24
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5 Answers

Sorry I missed this one when it was first posted. When you look at the datasheets for just about any chip you can imagine you discover that nearly all of them are made in at least 2, usually 3, temperature ranges. This covers ambient operating temperatures, not the actual chip temperatures, which had a different and normally considerably higher limit.

Generally we would only use chips made for the "commercial" range, which if memory serves (it often doesn't) is up to 125 deg. C. Then there is the "military" range, which goes a chunk higher. Finally there is another range, the name of which escapes me, that goes higher still.

As you can imagine, the price goes up as the range goes up. Incidentally, as the maximum temperature for a range goes up normally the minimum goes down. This means military grade chips are fine for most uses in spacecraft and satellites.

Now, having said all that, I don't personally know of any off-the-shelf systems built with chips other then normal commercial grade ones. Then again, I'm not in a part of the industry where I would expect to ever come across such machines.

Temperature range is of course only part of the equation but it is the part that is generally the hardest to satisfy. The rest should be met by using normal harsh environment engineering practices.

To further research this rather interesting area I suggest you look research systems built for ships, aircraft and spacecraft. Military types if possible, as they tend to be the more robust. e.g. A server in a ship, especially a warship, must be able to withstand fairly large extremes of hot and cold, plus at least some contact with salt water, sodium and chlorine vapours (produced when salt water and electricity mix) and other nasties. Pretty tough environment.

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There are some standards that you could search for, for example:

  • MIL-STD-810 - "Department of Defense Test Method Standard for Environmental Engineering Considerations and Laboratory Tests"
  • IP Code (like the mentioned IP68)
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Cisco conducted some tests along with Nasa sending routers in space (CLEO project).

In this extreme environment, CLEO routers were hardened, a bit like Cisco 3200s.

Circuits were lead-soldered (instead of tin). No clock battery, no wet capacitors, and obviously, no fan !

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In any harsh environment, protecting any equipment usually comes down to 5 factors:

  • Dust
  • Vibrations
  • Heat (or cold)
  • Moisture
  • Power

Coming from Western Australia, we have a lot of Iron Ore mines. If you think normal dust is bad, you should see what ferrous dust does to electrical equipment.

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There are a number of companies selling ruggedized PC's mostly for automation and industrial control purposes. AFAIK it's mostly about making them dust and vibration resistant.

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@Manuel Faux - can you be more specific about what type of information you're looking for? A starting point for us? At work, I always considered "extreme conditions" to be when the TC reaches 130+ degrees F. There's definitely a point in environmental conditions where we stop thinking about a "server" (normally associated with a data center or controlled environment) and start looking at purpose-built computers (dive computers, robotics control, anything on a space vehicle...) –  Jason Antman Oct 14 '09 at 18:05
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