Optimising the potential of edge computing and responding to the “dramatic ramping-up” in demand from media and communications customers are among the present priorities for Robert Courteau, general manager of Kontron’s communications business, writes David Davies

Marking its 60th anniversary in 2019, Kontron is a global player in the design and manufacture of embedded computer modules, boards and systems. Working in partnership with OEMs, systems integrators and application providers, the company continues to service a wide array of market segments, including media, communications, medical, energy, transportation and avionics.

Robert Courteau Kontron

Robert Courteau: General manager of Kontron’s communications business

This broad portfolio of interests makes Kontron especially well-positioned to chart the impact of the pandemic.

Robert Courteau, general manager of Kontron’s communications business, confirms that “it’s certainly been an interesting ride for the past 12 months.” It should come as no surprise to discover that avionics and transport have been “hit very hard” by Covid-19, but elsewhere there have been some marked increases in activity.

“Interest from the entire medical side has really jumped up, while the media and entertainment [M&E] business has also seen a dramatic ramping-up because of additional demands being placed on networks,” he says. “We’ve been fortunate in that we qualify as an ‘essential business’ [in most of the countries we operate in worldwide] so we have been able to keep our facilities open throughout the last 12 months – although we have been operating during that time with about 60-70% of staff working from home.”

This high level of continuity will undoubtedly have been extremely useful, including in M&E where a locked-down world has sent demand for high-quality streamed content soaring. Consequently, Courteau points to several long-term trends – including bandwidth optimisation and the use of edge processing – that have “accelerated even more” since the onset of the pandemic.

Close to the edge
The spike in demand combined with the rise of bandwidth-heavy UHD has resulted in what might be termed a ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to network pressures. “The pandemic has thrown us all in front of the screen for much longer, watching much more content,” he confirms. “At the same time, we have seen a trend towards higher bandwidth usage for UHD. That combination represents a massive load on the network, so [industry-wide] there has been a major focus on finding ways to use compression better and achieve greater optimisation of bandwidth.”

Increasingly, a further important element is entering the picture – edge computing. This distributed computing methodology involves bringing computation and data storage closer to the user, with the result that response times and transfer rates can be improved. With the number and size of content streams continuing to grow, there are potentially significant efficiency savings to be made by keeping video transfers within the boundaries of the local network.

For network providers and telcos, one of the main consequences has been the expectation that they “provide more bandwidth for the same cost. So what we have been doing is working to implement GPU solutions that make it possible to significantly lower the cost per stream – as much as 30-50% per stream,” says Courteau.

“The media and entertainment [M&E] business has also seen a dramatic ramping-up because of additional demands being placed on networks,” Robert Courteau 

A crucial enabler of these advancements is the introduction of the new Intel Xe family of GPU. The first member of this discrete GPU family is the Server GPU, or SG1 for short. It is aimed at gaming and media markets, and provides specific built-in functions to accelerate high quality video encoding, decoding and processing.

Kontron SG1

SG1:  Aimed at the gaming and media markets

Courteau confirms that “implementing SG1 into new solutions” is now a top priority for Kontron. Scheduled to enter production in July, the new solutions will include the PCIe-2SG1, a standalone PCI Express card with two SG1 GPUs. The PCIe-2SG1 will also be integrated with a new computer blade for Kontron SYMKLOUD modular media systems. The new processor module, available in two flavours, will have a PCIe card with two SG1 cards and a choice of CPU. The MSP8071 has an 8 core CPU while the MSP8075 has a 12 core CPU for more demanding applications.

 

“This new family of products will provide exceptional deployment flexibility for our customers, from the smallest systems at the edge to the largest in data centres requiring the highest density at the lowest cost,” says Courteau.

Combined solutions
With telcos also preparing for the impact of 5G services, Courteau is confident that Kontron has identified “a very nice sweet-spot” as processing requirements become more complex. “We have a long history of providing solutions and services to [customers working with] demanding applications,” he notes. Looking ahead, Kontron “sees a lot of opportunities for combined solutions that allow even more [operational requirements] – such as caching and transcoding – to be moved to the edge. The entire concept of being able to process data at the edge and bring only what is needed back to the core is very advantageous.”

While these new SG1-based products promise to appeal to customers in sectors as diverse as gaming and remote imaging, Kontron is continuing to see strong demand for existing ranges like the flagship SYMKLOUD Series, which was designed to simplify how network equipment and cloud service providers deploy web-based machine-to-machine and mobile applications in cloud infrastructures. Comprising a total of nine products at the present time, the SYMKLOUD Series of application-ready cloud platform solutions can cater to a “very wide range of video, CDN and OTT delivery deployments.”

Agreeing with the suggestion that the future is likely to involve “more hybrid-type” implementations that make use of both on-premise and cloud infrastructures, Courteau adds that Kontron “plays well in the private cloud set-up and also in those scenarios where the cloud moves from the core to the edge.” In keeping with its current focus on edge-centric innovation, Courteau expects that “we will continue to see more assets being moved to the edge” across the M&E world in the months and years ahead.

But what of the outlook for Kontron itself? Like many others in the M&E technology space, Courteau acknowledges that there have been “both negatives and positives” to be drawn from the past 12 months. “We have definitely made gains that no one wants to lose – for instance, it has been possible to save a great deal of money on travel,” he says. “And even if it was possible for our sales people to visit customers today, in a lot of cases that wouldn’t be practical as they are not in their offices.” So while he looks forward to the return of trade events and limited travel, he expects that “normality for business is going to look rather different from now on. It’s going to be fascinating to see how that all plays out over the next few years.”