PICMG standards adoption growing in Asia, Europe with COM Express leading the way
Leaders of PICMG say that their standards continue to grow in adoption across the globe, with COM Express making huge inroads in Asia and Internet of Things (IoT) markets while CompactPCI Serial grows in acceptance in Europe.
PICMG, founded more than 20 years ago, has seen its standards adopted in five continents and markets such as transportation, industrial, transportation, military, aerospace, medical, physics/research, energy, communications, and more.
Today PICMG’s COM Express standard is the hottest in terms of global adoption, while the organization and industry evolves CompactPCI into CompactPCI Serial for high-performance embedded computing applications. The non-profit’s xTCA specifications also continue to perform well in communications applications and are growing in use among military applications.
COM Express continues to be the shining star, with a lot of growth potential in Europe and Asia, says Justin Moll, VP of marketing for PICMG and VP of U.S. Development for Pixus Technologies.
Moreover, analysts at VDC Research in Natick say that computer-on-module (COM) solutions are really catching on in industrial applications as an alternative to larger form factors such as xTCA.
“COMs in general are seeing growing demand within industrial applications at the expense of alternative standard board form factors like xTCA and CompactPCI, driven primarily by cost and growing demand for hardware scalability using a common platform,” says Dan Mandell, Senior Analyst in the IoT and Embedded Technology Practice at VDC Research. “Though industrial automation is the leading application for COMs, we have seen greater growth through the last three years in other verticals including medical, energy, gaming, and retail automation.
“Beyond industrial, the market opportunities (available sockets and carriers) for COMs in powering more mobile and/or distributed IoT/sensing device classes has grown considerably during this time,” he continues.
“The champions for COM Express in industrial markets would be Kontron, Advantech, and congatec,” he adds.
Com Express and IoT
VDC Research analysts also say the adoption rate of COM Express in industrial IoT gateways or other connected industrial applications is trending upward. Why is it (or standardized boards in general) succeeding or failing to find market share there?
“Hardware modularity using modules is a key differentiator for some IoT gateway suppliers. However, the modularity sought for IoT gateways is, in most cases, for scalability in connectivity for supporting different cellular modems/networks (across geographies). These modules often feature proprietary or smaller ‘modem-like’ FFs like mPCIe,” Mandell says.
Compact PCI Serial
“I believe there is real potential for CompactPCI Serial in U.S. military and aerospace systems where VPX currently drives the market from a price/performance standpoint,” Moll says.
“CompactPCI Serial is the choice for completely new systems with high demand on fast data transfer and computing power, while customers still maintain their CompactPCI systems as long as possible, if there is no need for faster connections, says Michael Plannerer, Director of Global Research & Development for MEN Mikro Elektronik. “Luckily there is no need for a hard decision, as they can maintain their CompactPCI systems and just integrate fast CompactPCI Serial peripherals by using CompactPCI PlusIO CPU boards (which are 100 percent backwards-compatible with parallel CompactPCI). The markets and applications are totally the same. [At] MEN we just make them more robust, so they can be also used in harsh environments as well.”
Some see the growth of CompactPCI Serial moving a bit more slowly. “We have not seen any real market growth for CompactPCI Serial since its debut in 2011 beyond its starting markets, primarily due to lacking supplier support and competitive board architectures gaining a lot of traction in aerospace/rail such as VPX (and VME, which is not growing but continues to push steady volumes year-over-year),” says Mandell.
“The biggest supporters for CompactPCI Serial include MEN Mikro, EKF Elektronik, and FASTWEL,” he adds. “MEN Mikro established a new working group within PICMG in November 2015 for extending CompactPCI Serial into space applications [Space CompactPCI Serial] – alongside industry leaders such as Airbus, Thales Alenia Space, and STI Spacetech.”
VDC analysts see space as bright spot for the new standard. “Given the successes of CompactPCI technology in prior space system projects such as the “Curiosity” rover and some satellite control systems on the ISS [International Space Station], we expect CompactPCI Serial will see moderate adoption in future space applications. The base spec already has the mechanical and conduction cooling technologies needed for space deployments in place. Like any market with safety- or mission-critical design elements, space end users are reluctant to dramatic technological change.
“Space CompactPCI Serial is the new alternative to VPX in space applications and is at the moment on its way to the PICMG ballot,” Plannerer says. “The two main changes in the extension of the CompactPCI Serial specification are the definition of a dual star architecture for increased availability, and allowing the integration of different communication protocols common in space applications for both – the dual-star and the full-mesh network (which was formerly restricted to Ethernet only).”
“Others have dabbled with the technology, like Kontron and Pixus, but never really picked it up,” Mandell notes. “Kontron launched a few products in 2013 as part of its “High-Speed CompactPCI Initiative” but not much has happened in the years since for them.”
xTCA standards – MicroTCA and Advanced TCA – are performing steadily in terms of adoption in various markets, such as the U.S. military, in applications such as the U.S. Navy’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
The U.S. military has increased ATCA adoption due to the purchase of the IBM blade center by a Chinese company, says Jessica Isquith, President of PICMG. U.S. suppliers cannot deploy Chinese hardware, and as the blade center and ATCA share a physical form factor, the PICMG standard has gained attention as a potential replacement from U.S. manufacturers, she adds.
ATCA is also performing strongly in physics applications, Moll says, as this industry sees the success of ATCA’s implementation with SLAC. MicroTCA also continues to find adoption thanks to its size, weight, and power (SWaP) advantages combined with its performance, he adds.
The PICMG membership is discussing developing specifications to cover fiber, security, smaller form factors, ruggedization, and more, Isquith says. Additionally, the Rugged Com Express standard is expected to be ratified by VITA later this year, after Com Express .3 is ratified next month, she adds.
“It should be noted that PICMG is more membership-driven than other standards organizations,” she continues. “If three executive PICMG members develop a statement of work involving industries and/or organizations, it becomes the basis of a new specification. We don’t have leadership-driven mandates – three members at minimum can create a statement and that leads to the standard.”