Keeping commercial "off-the-shelf"

It’s hard to believe that in an industry as fast moving and progressively demanding as embedded communications that CompactPCI and AdvancedTCA are both still churning out revisions and spec updates well over a decade later. For so long, in fact, that I had to dig through the OpenSystems Media stacks – and reach back past a dusty E-book, over a tattered box that once contained the Bob OS, and around a DivX player that for some reason never got returned – to get to the first issue to mention AdvancedTCA (a 2002 issue of what was then just CompactPCI Systems), and into a 1996 issue of VMEbus Systems (Now VITA Technologies) for an introduction to CompactPCI.

After some histamine-induced sneezes and considerably more chuckles at the antiquated ads, it occurred to me that there was something about CompactPCI and AdvancedTCA technologies that kept them relevant through the years, long after Iridium routed its last call – and that was smooth transitions through steady improvements.

Looking through

Take the TCA ecosystem for example. Since its inception a decade ago, the TCA family of specs has survived constantly evolving technology requirements and demands by creating solutions that have been not only bleeding edge, but more importantly, interoperable. In addition to repeated revisions and updates to accommodate advances in fabric and transport technology, AdvancedTCA saw the advent of AdvancedMCs (AMCs). AMCs extended, optimized, and complemented the ATCA architecture without disrupting its lifecycle or viability, and once the demand for a smaller form factor was realized, the two merged to create MicroTCA. Matthew Travers of CBT Technology explains how development trends continue in the xTCA ecosystem with his article introducing AdvancedTCA Extensions.

Of course, if xTCA is impressive the longevity of CompactPCI is astounding. In her article on system migration using CompactPCI PlusIO, MEN Mikro’s Barbara Schmitz writes “the CompactPCI bus interface has served industrial computing applications so reliably for over a decade by redefining itself to include the use of enhanced communications capabilities,” and goes on to show that, due to the preservation of legacy systems, the transition across generations has been an “evolution rather than a revolution.” The destination for these migrations – CompactPCI Serial – is addressed in detail by Frank Weiser of Elma.

A standards-oriented migration path from legacy to next-gen technology is being realized beyond PICMG as well. This is evident in the IEEE’s 1588-2008 PTP, the packet timing protocol that is emerging as the “technology of choice to deliver synchronization” in asynchronous networks, according to Michelle Pampin of Symmetricom. Beyond network sync, “Blueprint for synchronization” reviews the concept of “profiles,” established in IEEE 1588-2008, a concept that encourages standards organizations beyond the IEEE to tailor the protocol to specific applications, thus easing the development of interoperable equipment.

The beauty of standards-based technology relies heavily on the tenet that the expansion and evolution of architectures are architected, unfolding overlapping specifications that not only ensure manufacturers, developers, or end users are not stranded on a proverbial technology island for entire lifecycles, but also that the flexibility to upgrade is available when and how individual demand dictates. These COTS systems bear little resemblance to commercial consumer devices; they do not have the disposability factor; they will not be produced or purchased by the millions. However, if specs and standards evolve along the migration path and generate solutions that link currently deployed and to-be deployed equipment, products spanning generations of an ecosystem will stay “off-the-shelf” and I’ll stay rummaging through the stacks.

Looking ahead

This issue contains CompactPCI, AdvancedTCA & MicroTCA Systems’ Annual Resource Guide, a conflation of inventive standards-based products designed to remedy a broad spectrum of challenges. To start searching flip back a couple of pages to the profile index on page 3, or peruse them at your leisure starting on page 22.

Finally, I’d like to thank Joe Pavlat for the opportunity to proffer my interpretations; he’ll be back at the helm for the summer issue, a handbook edition on Hardware Platform Management. Drop us a line for opportunities, questions, or simply to shoot the breeze.

Brandon Lewis, Associate Editor


Joe Pavlat, Editorial Director