By Ron Wilson, Editor-in-Chief, Altera Corporation
No other area of modern system design seems as perplexing as the apparently trivial subject of system management controllers—or chassis management, or shelf management, or board management, or any of a half-dozen other terms. The trouble begins with that old demon of design, feature creep.
“When I was first involved in this area,” recalls Hewlett Packard senior director of Moonshot Platform engineering Gerald Kleyn, “we controlled a fan with a thermistor and called it system management. Today, you can think of system management as the control plane sitting above the hardware handling the workload in a large system.”
“It has become a lot more than measuring voltages and temperatures and controlling fans,” asserts Pigeon Point Systems president Rich Vasse. “Some of these ‘controllers’ are running Linux, interacting with payloads, and collecting data for big-data analysis.” For further reading: Read a white paper on the use of FPGAs in system management. Explore the genuine complexity of advanced battery management.
This range of concepts helps explain the perplexity. Think of system management as a tangle of independently-developed point solutions and industry-specific standards. Now imagine a host of powerful system requirements—physical monitoring and control, remote configuration management, workload management, virtualization, reliability, and security—each grabbing a loose end of rope and pulling—hard. That is how we make a simple thermistor circuit into a microcontroller, an embedded Linux system, and eventually, a Gordian knot.