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Embedded Systems

Embedded Systems and Intel's AMT

Jose Izaguirre a field applications engineer at Intel.

Organizations have always looked to reduce costs and improve operational efficiency by using technology to automate as many business processes as possible. The automation occurs at all levels of the enterprise but of particular importance (especially for retail businesses) is the automation that is customer facing. This equipment is often a function-specific device -- an embedded system. Automated teller machines, point-of-sale workstations, vending kiosks, self-checkout systems, slot machines, and airline check-in terminals are all examples of customer facing embedded systems used in retail establishments. Of course, if the equipment is not operational it often means lost revenue for the business. Perhaps more importantly, however, it is the negative customer experience that is the most damaging. In retail, it is all about customer service, and a bad customer experience can impact customer loyalty and damage the corporate brand. Therefore, the retail IT enterprise must balance the deployment of customer-facing embedded systems that are cost effective yet very reliable and highly available.

Overview of Intel Active Management Technology

Intel Active Management Technology (AMT) is a hardware-based solution that uses out-of-band communication for management access to client systems. Intel AMT is one of the key technology ingredients of Intel vPro technology, a platform brand of business optimized computers. In situations where a remote client system is inaccessible, such as when the machine is turned off, the hard-disk drive has crashed or the operating system is hung, Intel AMT provides the mechanism by which a server running remote management software would be able to still access the client system and perform basic management tasks. Intel AMT is dedicated hardware contained within certain Intel mobile and desktop chipsets, such as the Mobile Intel GM45 Express chipset or the Intel Q35/Q45 Express chipsets and which are also used in many embedded devices. Figure 1 describes the client-side Intel AMT hardware components.

Figure 1: Intel Active Management Technology (Intel AMT) hardware architecture. (Source: Intel Corporation, 2008)

At a high level, client-side Intel AMT is made up of the following components:

  • Intel Manageability Engine (Intel ME), a microcontroller-based subsystem that provides an out-of-band (OOB) management communication channel, maintains a TCP/IP stack and runs the Intel ME firmware. Intel ME is the heart of AMT and resides in the chipset's Memory Control Hub (MCH).
  • Nonvolatile memory, persistent memory used to store the compressed Intel ME firmware as well as hardware/software information for IT staff to access using the OOB channel. This includes approximately 192 KB of third-party data storage space (3PDS) for general-purpose use by OEM platform software or third-party software applications. The 3PDS space could optionally be use for encryption of sensitive data or secure keys. This nonvolatile memory resides in flash memory and is often combined onto a single SPI flash device along with the system's BIOS, Video BIOS, LAN ROM, and so on.
  • System Memory, a portion of the system's main DRAM (channel 0) is used to run the decompressed Intel ME Firmware similar to what happens with system's BIOS. Intel ME requires DRAM channel 0 in order for the Intel ME to run and be initialized properly. If no memory is populated in channel 0 then Intel ME will be disabled.
  • AMT-capable networking hardware, specific Intel wired or wireless networking silicon with necessary hooks to support Intel AMT. These hooks implement filters that interact with inbound and outbound TCP/IP networking traffic.

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