Heiko Korte, VP and Director Sales & Marketing, N.A.T. GmbH
Heiko outlines the reasons for N.A.T. holding a leadership position in the MicroTCA ecosystem.
Heiko served as Head of Software Development with N.A.T. for almost a decade and began his current position in 2000 with responsibility for N.A.T. worldwide sales and marketing activities. Due to his strong background in engineering he still is personally involved in the definition of all strategic hardware and software products at N.A.T.
What is MicroTCA's appeal?
On the technology side, customers look at MicroTCA as a thrilling technology. It is something that allows them to connect to such desired features as serialized communication, high bandwidth, reliability, and system manageability.
On the commercial side we are seeing that customers have accepted that this is a new technology. These customers are willing to accept that for their type of business MicroTCA is on a different price break right now as compared to their current solution, and they have a clear expectation that within the next three to five years, prices will drop significantly, especially in the Processor AMC area.
Look at the price development for the MCH. Looking back to the days when we started with that product, the price today is 50 percent lower than in the beginning. And as prices go down, volumes will ramp up.
What signals did you pick up at this year’s shows?
Mobile World Congress was an excellent show for us with regard to MicroTCA. Walking the show, one could see many MicroTCA systems displayed at various vendors for different purposes: test and measurement; systems for telecommunication; and base stations for next generation networks. We are not talking about prototypes here. We are talking about working systems that are field deployable.
Embedded world showed us the embedded ecosystem is getting more and more diversified. We see a lot of companies focusing on CPU cores provided on mezzanine form factors to be mounted on any custom design. The indication from both MWC and embedded world is that customers are willing to make the transition to new technologies, and there are already vendors with serious field deployable systems.
What is driving that customer willingness?
The key driving factor is that customers’ current solutions are limited, for example, when it comes to bandwidth, system management, remote management, and monitoring the system’s health. Implementing those features with their existing technology would result in costly, highly proprietary solutions. They would be locked into certain suppliers without being able to choose from the ecosystem whenever and whatever they need.
We already have several projects that are deploying MicroTCA in volume figures. And as result of MicroTCA volumes going up, prices are coming down. Customers in the price-sensitive transportation market, for example, are showing interest because MicroTCA brings them features unavailable with their current technologies.
Why is the whole solution from N.A.T. more than just the sum of its parts?
What characterizes our platforms or solutions is the unique expertise N.A.T. has in both hardware and software. Having the capability to adapt software to the exact system requirements as well as to the exact customer needs really forms a solution for the customer. Creating such a solution requires both board-level products, which are supplied by N.A.T., as well as infrastructure products including chassis, power supplies, and MCHs. N.A.T. is a true believer in an open standard platform, so we put nothing into the system that would limit the customer to a single vendor. This is why we have created our NATIVE family of systems, where NATIVE stands for N.A.T. InoVation Enabler.
All the products that we include are interoperable, and this makes the customer confident that this is a real solution. On the hardware front, the products span single board computers based on communication processors, line interfaces, DSP boards, and custom developments. Software includes drivers, special operating system ports, applications, and even custom developments.
For instance, when a customer has a piece of hardware that goes obsolete, man-years of software development cannot go to waste. N.A.T. can design a hardware platform that to the customer’s software looks similar to the obsoleted board. So it is really the mixture of hardware and software expertise N.A.T. brings to the table that assure the solution is more than just the sum of its parts.
What is ahead for MicroTCA?
We have made good progress with MicroTCA in the last one and a half years with ruggedized MicroTCA, for example. Over the next three to five years I would not expect big changes to the specification. One potential change, however, is USB implementation in the backplane, allowing customers to easily connect any USB device to a MicroTCA system, and the traffic from that USB device gets routed to the system by the backplane.
N.A.T. introduced an AdvancedMC based on Freescale’s octal-core QorIQ P4080.
Yes, as part of a larger product family, and just as important as part of our belief in meeting customers where they are. The family includes a dual core based on the P20 QorIQ as well as a P50, which is the 64-bit version of the P40. Freescale has announced it will provide pin compatibility for the processors within that family, so the P40 is just the starting point of a larger family of multicore communication processors. The NAMC-QorIQ-P40 combines a multicore PowerPC with a large Virtex6 FPGA that is fully available to customers to run their own IPs and protocol accelerators.
The NAMC-QorIQ-P40 is part of meeting customers where they are because the FPGA facilitates the conversion from the bit stream to the packet stream. Also, the octal core makes it possible to run all the applications that customers would require to bring their data packets through the packet-based network.