Computer Systems Layers

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Computer System Layers

Most computer systems are divided in 3 layers:

  • hardware
  • operating system
  • applications


Hardware: What makes the computers tick...

Hardware consists of the following: memory, processor, output devices, input devices.

Modern Starship computers are very reliable, quickly recover from damage and errors, and are composed of many redundant components. A ship's extended computer system consists of the following:

  • Optical Data Network
  • Padds
  • Desktop Terminals
  • Workstations
  • Computer Processing Cores
  • Sub-system's Processors and Relays


Data Transport and Displays (Optical Data Network, Padds and Desktop Terminals)

Padds and Desktop Terminals have only sufficient processing power to search for requested information on the ODN, and display it (including sound). The Optical Data Network is the back-bone of a Starship's computer system. It consists of fiber optic cables interconnecting all the other systems (except Terminals and Padds, using a different technology).

The ODN also has enough distributed power in the form of routing equipment to permit a limited take-over of main computer's control functions by rerouting control to sub-system's processors. The ODN also includes the Infrared Data Network, which enables the Padds and Desktop Terminals to be used wireless.

All systems on the starship have a dedicated, local, processing system. It receives data from it's ODN link and can monitor the status of data sent to the ship's main computer. If the main computers are off-line, data will be sent on the ODN and routed to equipment relying on the status of the given sub-system for normal operations of the ship.


Data Processing (Workstations, Main Computer Cores and Distributed Data Processing)

Workstations are scarce. Usually, there is one per Science Departments on a Starship, and in Engineering. Those desk sized computers are general purpose local and distributed data processing systems. They are less powerful than the main computers, yet they are useful in the task they do. Engineering and Science usually require complex modeling and data compilation.

Those two tasks are computer intensive, yet very recurrent. Usually, it is the size of the data that is causing the processing problem, and the program's code is repetitive. So instead of having the main computer's processor continually swapping data and code for low or average priority calculations, local workstations would do the processing of data while the main computer would take care only of heavy and complex calculations.

Those workstations can also share processing time with the main computer cores and other workstations, making all low-priority operations run on the workstations (such as encoding the latest transmission of Ensign's Smith letter to his mother and indexing the content...)while the main computer's do hard work.

Example: Combining readings from exterior accelerometers, impulse engine current thrust, thruster's status, and adjusting consequently the inertial dampers and gravity generators to compensate for all the different acceleration vectors on all decks and sections of the ship... All of this while combining gravitic sensors data and electro-magnetic readings and generating one data model for Stellar Cartography AND identifying a gravitic anomaly as a Klingon Bird of Prey AND displaying that to the Tactical Console on the Bridge...) Memory and Processors (Isolinear Memory Crytals, Bio-gel Packs, Nanoprocessors, ODN Relays, etc.)

On Starfleet vessels, memory consists either of isolinear memory rods, for semi permanent data storage, isolinear control rods, read-only memory which cannot be rewritten, bio-gel packs, small packs containing a biological gel which performs a function analog to nervous systems, and used mainly in ship system's sub processing and control.

The processors used in Starfleet range from central computer cores to nanoprocessors. The biggest computer processor on a starship is the main computer core. It consists of thousands if not millions of smaller processors interconnected with a high speed data and command bus. They are often surrounded by a low-level subspace field, which results in faster-than-light signal propagation.

Workstations use a similar parallel processing technique, consisting of splitting the work on several processors. Sub-system processors are usually a few processors, for redundancy, that could be used simultaneously, but not necessarily. Relay processors do little more than act as routers to the ODN data stream. Terminals and padds have nanoprocessors, with barely enough power to process graphical and audio data streams coming from the ODN.


Operating System: The heart of the starship...

What good would be an advanced computer system if it kept crashing and producing flawed data and results? The heart of the starship is it's operating system. There has not been a single main computer's operating system crash in all Starfleet for more than 100 years... The operating system is also in separated in various layers.

Layer 1: OS Core (Kernel, Master Program, Primary Program, etc.)

The first layer is the operating system's core, also referred to as the kernel in very old Earth computer texts. This first computer program is designed to take care of the basic operations of the computer. It takes care of the memory allocation and processing management. Memory allocation consists of separating the memory in addresses and allocating ranges of those addresses to various programs. Processing management is more complicated. It consists of allocating processors, and processing time and priority.

Layer 2: I/O Managers (ODN Interfaces and Protocols)

A second layer that comes on top of that is the input/output managers. This layer takes care of all inputs and outputs to and from the computer's processors and memory. It includes descriptions of the communication devices connected to the computer directly. For the main computers, it consists of only the ODN communication protocols, but for the padds, terminals and console displays nanoprocessors, it includes instructions in how to decode or encode given type of information and reproduce or record it adequately.

Layer 3: Command System (File Systems, Command Interpreters)

A third layer is the command system. This layer simplifies the use of the computer by enabling the user to start given applications with simple commands. The command system includes basic functions, such as file systems, file creation, editing, moving and deleting. This layer is the minimum requirement for a computer system to be usable.

Files are given properties such as the date and time of creation, latest modification, size, type, and access properties such as owner, creator, and the security clearance needed to access it, add to it and delete it. Running applications also share similar properties, such as date and time of launch, processing time used, priority, owner, and the security clearance needed to modify it's priority or kill the process.

Layer 4: User Interface (Speech Recognition, Voice Synthesis, Graphical Displays, Touch Sensitive Panel Layouts)

The fourth layer is the user interface. The user interface enables the user to give the computer information in a natural manner, and is what makes the computer so integrated on a starship. The user interface consists of the input interfaces and output interfaces. The voice recognition, natural language processing and voice synthesis applications are members of this layer, along with the touch sensitive panels and displays "look and feel".

Applications: Making it all useful

The Operating System running the Hardware is not the end of the story. The Operating System's job is to, well, operate the system. Without applications, it would serve no purpose. Applications are programs written to do a specific job of no use to the computer's system operation.

Although users do not realize it, because all interactions between the user and the computer are standardized with a common graphical interface and computer voice (and this is a good thing), there are hundreds if not thousands of different applications running at different times.

Applications in Starfleet are created using standard templates for graphical interfaces, and language processing tools. All a user has to do when he wants to create a new application is to fill in the blanks. Those blanks include, but are not limited to, interactions with other applications, security clearances, access to given systems on the ship, processing of data with given formulas and models.

Of course, if the need arises, a programmer could always diverge from current programming standards.

An example of it all comes together

SD 99999.2359, a nearby Red Supergiant collapses in a Supernova.

What follows is a very brief summary of the interactions of computer systems on the ship, with a Science Department point of view.

  1. First, a gravitic disturbance caused by the massive displacement of matter and energy is registered on long-range sensors.
  2. The long range sensors gravitic detectors are stimulated, and data is collected by the sensor array's sub processors.
  3. The data is relayed to the main computer on the ODN.
  4. The main computer archives the readings in a sensor log file in memory.
  5. An application who's task is to localize and identify gravitic anomaly calls a searching application to look through the known space phenomenon for a matching profile while triangulating the coordinates of the disturbance.
  6. The searching application returns the data to the gravitic anomaly application with this answer: supernova.
  7. The gravitic anomaly application executes the correct procedure for this phenomenon: a notification program of all concerned parties.
  8. The notification program calls a searching application to locate the names of the crew members on duty at the given positions.
  9. The notification program calls for the Science I bridge terminal, Science II bridge terminal, Stellar Cartography lab, and other labs, to produce beeping alarms and display the current information about a supernova.
  10. The searching application returns the names of the scientists to be notified.
  11. The notification program calls to the internal communication system a request to notify the scientists with the message:"Priority One Opportunity in Progress...".
  12. The internal communication system calls the voice synthesis application to generate the sound wave profile of the given sentence.
  13. The voice synthesis application returns the words as wave files.
  14. The internal communication system locates the scientists from their combadges and orders the sound generators from their combadges or current location to play the sound profile.

But all of this takes place in less than a few milliseconds.


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