Risk vs Reward – COTS Equipment in Defence Rack Applications


By definition 19″ racks integrate a vast assortment of equipment to suit its usage, from air-conditioned server rooms to racks destined to operate within the defence sector.

A key consideration for anyone specifying for such a rack is the grade of equipment that gets selected, from easy to source, cost-effective commercial hardware, to specialist, completely bespoke equipment developed for a challenging application.

Such hardware can often be expensive and increase the length of a project or time to market.

20170525adf8443968 220 1 550x300 - Risk vs Reward – COTS Equipment in Defence Rack Applications

Even in a challenging defence application, it would be ideal to get the best of both worlds, leveraging easy to source cost-effective COTS equipment, whilst ensuring it would be suitable for the intended defence application.

There are also examples of where cutting-edge commercial technology provides a performance level entirely not feasible within a specialist low volume sector. Yet, this performance is an absolute requirement of the application. Such as graphics processing units, which in recent years have gained much utility beyond only rendering immersive graphics, by providing serious processing performance for AI applications starting to be deployed within the defence industry.

So, let’s look at some of the advantages, risks and mitigation using COTS hardware in a defence application


  • Cost-effective – due to mass production, rather than equipment built on demand for specific small run projects.
  • Readily available – lead-times from procurement to delivery measured in days or weeks, not months or even years!
  • Cutting edge compute performance – latest computing developments are typically released commercially, such as the fasted GPU’s, Processors and solid-state storage.
  • Meets software requires– sometimes, a particular commercial part is the only option to enable a specific software application to perform the way it needs to in a defence application.


  • Component or system obsolescence – the double-edged sword of the commercial market wanting the fastest component, means the market often moves on quickly, leaving hardware obsolete, and unavailable for spares or future projects.
  • Environmental failure – there are so many variables in a defence environment that exceed what commercial hardware was intended to do; some factors like temperature, dust/liquid ingress are caused exposure to the elements. Whereas shock and vibration from factors such as transportation.
  • Insufficient service information – basic user manuals or quick start guides that come as standard from the components incorporated into a rack are unlikely to support de-risking the specification or form the basis for a complete rack verification cross reference index.
  • Electro-magnetic compatibility – as well more common EMC requirements, defence requirements may take testing and certification further with more demanding standards, and special considerations such as TEMPEST for which commercial hardware hasn’t been tested to.

Risk Mitigation unlocks COTS advantages

To successfully use COTS equipment within a 19″ rack integration for defence, through either necessity or to enable rapid deployment, the risks above need to be addressed with additional crucial work.

  • Additional Testing and Certification – Ensuring the design is certified and tested to confirm it meets appropriate MIL-STD, DEF-STAN levels for the intended use.
  • Adaptation & Protection – Additional ruggedisation can take many forms, from small things such as connector retention to big such as repackaging commercial hardware.
  • Obsolescence management – Careful management of supply chain, and component selection to ensure a forwards roadmap is clear.
  • Documentation – additional documentation based on the rack as a whole, rather than off the shelf components.
Scope Trace1 550x300 - Risk vs Reward – COTS Equipment in Defence Rack Applications

In summary, there are very much significant advantages to considering COTS within a 19″ rack design for defence, but crucially the associated risks that come with it must be addressed; managed risk = reward.

To find out a little more about how Captec works with defence companies to manage these risks, please visit our defence solutions web page.

Spread the word ...