Integrating complex building blocks to deliver highly available and reliable IPTV solutions

IPTV developers can focus on application differentiation by taking advantage of CP-TA tested building blocks.

With IPTV quickly becoming closer to reality, Sven Freudenfeld, Chair of the Communications Platforms Trade Association (CP-TA) marketing workgroup focusing on the interoperability of COTS standard building blocks, outlines why network equipment designers are now looking to a COTS approach driven by standards in order to accelerate the development cycle, reduce risk, and ultimately shorten time-to-market.

Advantages of AdvancedTCA

A recent report by Cisco Systems suggests that as early as 2009, use of IPTV will eclipse that of Internet video-to-PC streaming and downloads. But, building a system to deliver the performance required for IPTV is a complex design task. Designing the entire system in-house is no longer a realistic use of resources or cost-effective option.

IPTV requires very high levels of processing horsepower to perform the coding and transcoding of live and stored video streams. This requirement can be met by the latest AdvancedTCA multicore processing platforms, which offer extremely high computing power, high communication bandwidth, and high availability.

Processing capabilities and available bandwidth increase with multicore processors. At the same time, multicore processors make it possible to maintain a smaller footprint and lower power performance than were achievable in past rack-mount configurations. Manufacturers who take advantage of the latest multicore processors in the AdvancedTCA form factor will be able to build faster, more scalable systems without upgrading the framework or increasing floor space.

The AdvancedTCA specification defines a number of backplane protocol and topology choices, providing flexibility depending upon the needs of the application. The processing boards communicate over the backplane via high-bandwidth channels, typically Gigabit Ethernet or 10 Gigabit Ethernet, in either a star, dual star, or full mesh topology. Peripherals such as packet processing modules and storage drives using iSCSI communicate over the backplane, typically via PCI Express, GbE, 10 GbE, Serial RapidIO, SATA, or SAS.

The redundancy of the dual star and full mesh topologies is a key factor in making AdvancedTCA systems highly available. Other features of AdvancedTCA that support high availability include the ability to hot swap all FRUs, redundant Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) buses for blade management, and shelf management. These features, if leveraged through the proper use of middleware and/or application support, can provide systems with up to 5-nines (99.999 percent) availability.

Advanced Mezzanine Cards (AMCs), which are AdvancedTCA plug-in expansion cards, address the need for high levels of modularity and configurability. AMCs can extend the benefits of the AdvancedTCA fabric to individual modules, enabling designers to customize, scale, upgrade, and service their systems.

The Micro Telecommunications Architecture (MicroTCA) is a complementary, smaller scale platform built around the use ofAMC modules. Despite its small size, MicroTCA offers a wide range of bandwidth options with regard to both compute band-width and communication bandwidth. Up to 12 compute boards on a single backplane give MicroTCA a tremendous amount of computing resources, especially when each board has the potential to use a multicore processor. Communication bandwidth capabilities range from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps using multiple switch protocols such as 1 GbE, 10 GbE, or brio.

With this amount of compute and communication power, MicroTCA shows great promise for IPTV-based or content delivery services. Designers can use MicroTCA for residential media gateways, capitalizing on this platform’s high availability, low-power, ultra dense processing, and lower operating costs. The smaller form factor and lower entry cost of MicroTCA communications servers supports a "pay-as-you-grow" business model, allowing Service Providers to enter a market with less initial capital expenditure and expand their computing platform capabilities in small, low-cost increments as demand for the new service increases.

Together, AdvancedTCA, MicroTCA, and AMCs make up the open modular xTCA ecosystem with multiple vendors offering a variety of solutions. Because the system configuration options using the xTCA approach are diverse, multivendor interoperability is vital.

Other critical building blocks

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Figure 1

Along with the benefits provided by xTCA comes a degree of complexity in the details of virtually every facet of the system. Besides the standards-based COTS system management building blocks (Figure 1), a number of other elements must all work together seamlessly.

System design engineers must also integrate the associated OS and in some instances the Board Support Package (BSP) with the associated supporting drivers for the components on the board or system and develop middleware to integrate the hardware with the application reliably. The management capabilities for all the hardware, fabrics, software, and system components are quite sophisticated and require an expertise in the complex standards to pull all the building blocks together into a cohesive system.

Given the difficult, detailed, and time-consuming nature of pulling the pieces of the platform together, embedded system companies should not be discouraged from developing an xTCA-based system. Standards-based middleware provides new opportunities for realizing fully integrated carrier grade platforms.

Frequently a lapse looms between the availability of the hardware and date that it is possible to deploy applications. This gap derives from the schedule cost of the back-end software development. It can be filled with middleware platforms, as shown in Figure 2,that provide chassis management functions, inter-process communications, and services that are scalable from deeply embedded to large, complex systems.

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Figure 2

The availability of open system solutions and open architecture middleware platforms makes it possible to integrate essential services without being a technical expert in communications. Preintegrated open modular platforms take much of the guess-work out of system operability and reliability. This is especially the case when the Network Equipment Provider (NEP) or Telecommunications Equipment Maker (TEM) collaborates with hardware and middleware suppliers from an early stage in the design process to understand the goals, implementation, and operation of the system.

Integration management

While the number of benefits to using an open modular standard are many, it still requires a certain level of integration effort, one that can take from six to 12 months, to make sure all the building blocks work seamlessly together. In addition, integrating the hardware platform can require a great deal of support in the form of program management, functional experts, quality assurance, tools, and deployment support – all of which adds up to a tremendous amount of precious personnel, time, and money resources.

To begin with, integration efforts are on different levels, starting from interoperability on the hardware level when using multiple sources for the system components. There are also the considerations of thermal, mechanical, fabric connectivity, and Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) interoperability. This first integration task can become quite complex. Having all the tools to perform this task is already a significant investment, not to mention the engineering time to perform that validation and integration. When integrating multisourced standard components, further challenges arise when it comes to identifying which "vendor" is at fault when problems occur.

The next level of integration requires that the preferred OS is working and supported on the desired blades and might require an additional validation effort. The manageability within the system can take a major undertaking. Even by using standards-based components, the system management (middleware), HPI, and shelf management all need to be validated as a cohesive management unit. Even if the components are designed based on standards or a recipe, every vendor may have a different method of implementing it. For a product to be successful, it needs to be a complete solution with hardware, middleware, OS, and the like. Integrating all these elements is a year’s worth of intense work, which can be a time-consuming and costly task for a systems provider.

Instead of modifying the middleware for an altered application in-house, the equipment manufacturer can utilize a preintegrated system and COTS software tools to ensure the application integration is seamless. An out-of-the-box integration with middleware can deliver a complete control, management, and data platform. Buying a market-tested product ensures greater operational flexibility and takes foreseeable hardware, software, and application upgrades into account.

Kontron and Enea jointly developed an AdvancedTCA Gigabit and 10 Gigabit system preintegrated with the Enea Element middleware platform to offer a reference platform for telecom equipment manufacturers. Kontron’s modular, high-performance AdvancedTCA systems, combined with Enea’s carrier grade software framework, provide best-in-class network supervision, fault management, device management, and data management services. This preintegrated solution offers equipment makers a flexible, high availability platform for scalable, upgradeable, 5-nines equipment to deliver uninterrupted, high-quality multimedia services over IP networks.

Importance of prevalidation and testing

Preintegrated open modular platforms take much of the guesswork out of system operability and reliability. The combination of open system solutions and open architecture middleware platforms make it possible to integrate essential services without being a technical expert in communications. This is especially the case when the NEP or TEM collaborates with hardware and middleware suppliers from an early stage in the design process to understand the goals, implementation, and operation of the system.

The Communications Platforms Trade Association (CP-TA) is a global association of communications platform and building block providers dedicated to accelerating the adoption of SIG-governed, open specification-based communication platforms through interoperability and testing. CP-TA has delivered interoperability documents for AdvancedTCA and is currently addressing AMC and MicroTCA specifications. COTS building blocks are tested according to the CP-TA Test Procedure Manual and validated according to the Interoperability Compliance Document.

Besides the CP-TA, there are a number of additional working groups dedicated to solving issues related to xTCA interoperability and compliance. The SCOPE Alliance has defined a reference architecture for a generic Carrier Grade Base Platform (CGBP). This architecture, which includes hardware, operating system, operations and maintenance functions, and tools also specifies middleware as a fundamental component for service availability. In addition SCOPE creates profiles for the Service Availability Forum (SA Forum), the main organization active in the middleware standardization effort.

The SCOPE Alliance has also published the AdvancedTCA profile, which provides guidance for a common platform to create carrier grade platforms that fulfill the needs of NEPs and their customers, the Service Providers.

Summary

Along with the standards-based COTS system management building blocks, there are a number of other elements that must all work together seamlessly in a cohesive system. Pulling all of these pieces together can be difficult, detailed, and time-consuming. For a product to be successful, it needs to be an integrated solution with hardware, middleware, OS, and the like. Finding the right building blocks and partnering with experts that can provide integrated, validated, and tested platforms is very important to the long-term success of any IPTV application. CP-TA tested building blocks offer developers the freedom of choice to select the best of breed in price and performance, alleviating the issues about hardware integration or interoperability and allowing them to focus on differentiating their application.

Sven Freudenfeld is responsible for North American Business Development for the Kontron AG line of AdvancedTCA, AdvancedMC, MicroTCA, and preintegrated OM solutions. Sven possesses more than 15 years of experience with voice, data, and wireless communications, having worked extensively with Nortel Networks in systems engineering, Sanmina-SCI in test engineering, and Deutsche Telekom in network engineering. Sven holds an electrical engineering degree from Germany. He is VP of CP-TA and Chair of the CP-TA marketing workgroup focusing on the interoperability of COTS standard building blocks.

Kontron
www.kontron.com
sven.freudenfeld.ca.kontron.com