The AdvancedTCA integration evolution

Network-centric warfare is driving the advancement of integrated, open standards-based platforms in the mil/aero industry.

4Military applications developers have witnessed a large-scale shift away from utilizing proprietary components. Developers are weighting efforts toward value-added services while taking advantage of AdvancedTCA characteristics. A number of applications can benefit from this standard, particularly those applications with tight space and power allotments, such as mobile command, control and communication systems.

Military applications developers could be excused for pausing to catch their breath after living through dramatic changes for the last two decades. They have seen a large-scale shift away from utilizing proprietary components. Instead to better capitalize on technology, the mil/aero industry began commissioning fully integrated solutions. This change has allowed developers to focus on their value-added services while taking advantage of AdvancedTCA performance attributes.

Historical military equipment development

Historically, the military built its equipment using vertically integrated internal designs. Systems built using inflexible, proprietary components resulted in expensive and lengthy development times and made it difficult to keep up with evolving technologies.

The Network-Centric Warfare (NCW) doctrine introduced, beginning in 1996, a new way of conducting military operations. A fundamental shift away from compartmentalized war machines created a robustly interconnected network of military units that depended on the timely transfer of actionable information for cohesive operation. For equipment manufacturers, this fueled heavy demand for networking and performance capabilities, while reducing the power and space allotments for embedded systems.

Recognizing the inherent limitations of using this proprietary development method, military equipment manufacturers began transitioning to using Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) solutions. Standards-based COTS solutions, such as rugged VME, CompactPCI, and VPX, meant designers chose from the latest computing and networking technologies at reduced costs and cut development time because they were not reinventing the wheel – or hardware. However, NCW performance, bandwidth, and power consumption demands rose sharply and soon surpassed the capabilities of the traditional military standards, forcing developers to look for new approaches.

Addressing ruggedized networking applications

System engineers needed a platform that could meet the unique Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) demands of highly ruggedized networking applications. Older standards could not satisfy all of these requirements. They found the AdvancedTCA form factor, originally developed for the telecommunications industry, offered a robust, high-performance, fault-tolerant platform that was easily customized for a variety of compute-intensive applications.

  • Open standard: As an open standard, AdvancedTCA offers a smooth upgrade path and broad supplier base, eliminating the risk of product obsolescence.
  • Robustness: AdvancedTCA offers field-proven robustness as it is designed to withstand the more extreme environmental factors, including shock, vibration, and G-forces.
  • Carrier-grade reliability: AdvancedTCA provides hardware redundancy at every level, including fans, power entry modules, backplane data, and shelf managers, as well as fault tolerance on an application level for mission-critical applications.
  • Power efficiency: AdvancedTCA’s low power consumption allows it to meet application requirements for power efficiency and heat dissipation.
  • Scalability: AdvancedTCA is fully scalable and customizable to comply with a range of application requirements.
  • Performance: AdvancedTCA offers significant performance advantages over other open standards-based COTS products, with a larger board size affording developers more area for processors, chipsets, memory, and graphics processor units.
  • Interoperability: AdvancedTCA common form factor blades allow designers to create multiple applications and network elements on a standard architecture while providing maximum flexibility with multi-vendor interoperability from AdvancedTCA’s solid and mature ecosystem.
  • Bandwidth: AdvancedTCA technologies can fully support 10 Gb of traffic on the system backplane to process voice and video traffic. And PICMG is proceeding with standards work to create a 40 Gb specification to aid multivendor interoperability of system elements.

“Defense primes recognized that ATCA’s attributes fit well with modern military networking requirements,” explains Bill Rick, director of federal sales, Astute Networks.

Systems engineers began using AdvancedTCA for a variety of military applications, beginning with aerospace then moving to ground- and naval-based applications. Engineers worked on the system-level integration and proceeded to write software for AdvancedTCA-based applications, thus realizing the possibilities that AdvancedTCA offered for interconnected military operations.

Integrated solutions for mil/aero

Manufacturers such as RadiSys recognized the need for integrated platforms for mil/aero applications. Pre-integrated AdvancedTCA platforms offer a number of benefits for system developers. The pre-integrated platform approach gives developers greater choice in selecting the level of engagement needed on a project basis. This allows manufacturers to capitalize on AdvancedTCA’s interoperability with a consistent architecture that developers can use to support a variety of applications. Using pre-integrated platforms offers third-party validation, ease of maintainability, and a single point of responsibility for system integration. Finally, the pre-integrated approach significantly reduces time-to-market without increasing project risk; in some cases, this means moving from concept to field deployment in a few months rather than years. Based on these overwhelming advantages, integrated platforms are becoming the new industry building blocks.

A rugged platform for mobile command and control

To meet the evolving requirements of integrated computing, RadiSys developed the C2 Server (Figure 1), the industry’s first rugged AdvancedTCA platform for mobile command and control. The C2 Server is a straight out-of-the-box solution that can be quickly deployed in the field. Integrated computing, switching, and storage are included in one platform. The C2 Server offers higher performance with 33 percent less weight and lower power consumption than comparable Rack Mount Servers (RMS), features that facilitate mobile computing.

Figure 1: The C2 Server from RadiSys has arrived as the first rugged AdvancedTCA platform for mobile command and control.

This pre-integrated RadiSys platform leverages best-of-breed technology from key industry players Astute Networks, LCR Electronics, and RadiSys. RadiSys’ Promentum ATCA-2210 switch is the industry’s first 10 Gigabit (10 GbE) capable switch and control module. Developed as part of an AdvancedTCA platform, the module’s highly integrated, centralized common equipment functions include switching, shelf management, network timing, and system management.

RadiSys Promentum ATCA-4500 series processor blades offer a range of high-performance options for a variety of application needs. The board supports multiple storage functionalities, such as Dual User Flash of up to 16 GB per blade. SSD Advanced Mezzanine Card (AdvancedMC) is also supported by the ATCA-4500 series, which includes optional Rear Transition Module (RTM) support of an additional drive. The boards are designed to meet stringent thermal testing and vibration requirements for mil/aero applications and NEBS requirements for communications applications.

The C2 Server employs Astute Networks’ Caspian R1100 storage blades. System capacity ranges from 3.6 TB to 6 TB per AdvancedTCA slot, with its iSCSI offload ASIC enabling a combination of performance and low-power consumption features unique to Astute Networks’ AdvancedTCA products.

“Astute Networks’ storage solutions offer customers the highest density storage available in a blade format,” said Rick.

The C2 Server chassis is from LCR Electronics, which develops extreme rugged enclosure products. LCR designed the chassis from scratch to withstand the most extreme military environments. LCR Electronics’ products go through rigorous trials, including temperature, shock, vibration, and severe acceleration testing. Many of LCR Electronics’ products have a life cycle of 20 or 30 years.

“Our products are uniquely designed to meet the requirements for military applications,” notes Daemon Heckman, a Product Line Manager at LCR Electronics. “Not only are our products built to withstand the most extreme environments, but they are built to last.”

Looking ahead

While AdvancedTCA has already been adopted across several military sectors, a variety of other applications can benefit from this standard, particularly those applications with limited space and power allotments, such as mobile command, control and communication systems.

As the industry evolves, it is continually moving toward smaller, high-performance systems with reduced power consumption. The AdvancedTCA architecture is also low power in nature. As the military continues to reduce its energy dependency, AdvancedTCA-centric systems such as the C2 Server are poised to deliver ready-made energy-efficient solutions.

John Long is a product line manager at RadiSys, with a focus on AdvancedTCA Single Board Computers and storage. He has more than 10 years’ experience in the communication industry holding various marketing, sales, and operational positions with Intel, Dialogic, and AT&T. John has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.