The big Embedded World

While we have tended to focus on high-end platforms like AdvancedTCA (ATCA) over the last couple of years, the embedded computer world is much broader than that and a recent trip to a very large, non-telecom-oriented tradeshow made that very clear.

The Embedded World tradeshow and conference was held February 25-27 in Nuremburg, Germany. Over 850 exhibitors from 35 countries exhibited their products and technologies, and more than 26,000 people attended. The show occupied six exhibit halls at NürnbergMesse, and is now the world’s largest that is strictly devoted to embedded technologies. There was very little telecom equipment, as most of those suppliers were at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which was held the same week.

Jessica Isquith, Vice President of Marketing at PICMG, attended the show with me. We spoke about PICMG at a press conference organized by MEN Mikro Elektronik GmbH, and visited the more than 50 PICMG member companies exhibiting there. Jessica and I were absolutely amazed at how many PICMG-compliant products were on display, which made it clear just how global the PICMG organization has truly become; just about everyone we talked to knew about PICMG.

Two things were especially surprising to me. First, virtually every vendor who builds CompactPCI (CPCI) – which remains very popular – was showing CompactPCI Serial (CPCI Serial) products: boards, chassis, and complete systems. We saw CPCI Serial gear in dozens of booths, making it fairly clear that this technology, which was developed largely in Europe, is being adopted more broadly there than in the U.S. and Asia. Its successes are based on its roots in the trusted CPCI platform, as well as much faster serial interfaces that allow CompactPCI Serial to compete with technologies like VPX, but at a much lower cost.

The CompactPCI Serial specification was released in March 2011 and is being adopted more quickly than the five or so years it takes most embedded technologies to reach widespread deployment. The technical committee that developed the specification was headed by Manfred Schmitz of the aforementioned MEN Mikro Elektronik, and that committee is now ready to release Revision 2 of the spec that will allow for increased innovation by incorporating more user-defined rear I/O pins and a more flexible way to use Ethernet, which can be used for external communications or to interconnect up to eight CPUs in the same chassis.

The second thing that struck us was that COM Express seemed to be everywhere. There are dozens and dozens of Small Form Factors (SFFs) in existence, but COM Express seems to be the most popular with the broadest support. That a mature organization like PICMG is managing its evolution – and not just a few companies – was mentioned by quite a few people.

Most attendees we spoke with believe the global COM Express board market to be in the 2-4 million units per year range. The development of Rugged COM Express, which provides surfaces on all four edges of the board that can be clamped to a metal clamshell, will open COM Express to more aerospace and defense and rugged industrial and transportation applications. Rugged COM Express is a mechanical adaptation of the core PICMG COM Express standard, the mechanics of which are being developed in the VITA Standards Organization (VSO) under the specification name VITA 59. This joint effort represents the second time PICMG and VITA have worked together, the first being the adoption of ATCA platform management technology in OpenVPX.