xTCA ecosystem reacts to technology, market shifts while COM Express emerges as SFF workhorse
In the fast-paced world of communications, technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are ushering in a new networking paradigm. As these software-based solutions begin to take hold, the hardware architectures that will support them are jockeying for market share, with mixed projections for AdvancedTCA (ATCA) and MicroTCA (mTCA) growth over the next five years. Meanwhile, COM Express continues to surge in the ever-growing small form factor (SFF) market.
The technology landscape surrounding today’s communications infrastructure is in flux, to say the least. Increasing network demands have made the great communications service provider (CSP) migration to scalable architectures based on software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) almost a foregone conclusion at this point, but what’s left is for operators to define the remaining hardware platforms upon which these software-based solutions will execute – and there are a lot of options.
With generic commodity servers, proprietary systems, and standardized computing technologies such as AdvancedTCA (ATCA) all on the menu, CSPs have a lot to choose from as they decide how proceed with network build outs and datacenter expansion. As a result, various hardware implementations continue to carve out niches in each others market share, with industry analysts providing mixed projections for ATCA over the next five years.
“VDC projects the global market for ATCA blades to actually regress over the next couple of years at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -0.8 percent from 2013 through 2017,” says Chris Rommel, Vice President, VDC Research (www.vdcresearch.com). “We see a lot of pressure on the market coming from non-standardized ATCA variants from suppliers such as Huawei. New ATCA standards will mitigate some, but certainly not all, advantages of the proprietary designs. AdvancedTCA will continue to be carried by communications and networking infrastructures and industrial automation and control applications.
“Within the networking and communications market, passive backplane architectures like ATCA will maintain a majority share of merchant embedded integrated computer system (EICS) revenues, but that will slip to 50 percent of the market by 2017, with SDNs being one likely factor,” Rommel continues (Figure 1). “Within passive backplanes, standard ATCA will wrest some share from the custom/proprietary products as updated PICMG standards are implemented allowing more power, cooling, and I/O capability.”
Given the groundswell of support for virtualized network services in the carrier community, PICMG has been proactive in refreshing the base ATCA standard with enhancements such as AdvancedTCA Extensions (PICMG 3.7), which makes the architecture more amenable to datacenter environments, as well as planned specification work around 100G AdvancedTCA and PICMG GEN4. According to Toby Colquhoun, Senior Analyst at IHS (www.ihs.com), these and other factors have enabled vendors to sell the technology into virtualized infrastructures, which he projects will provide a long-term boost for the architecture.
“There will continue to be demand for carrier grade equipment,” Colquhoun says. “Interestingly, suppliers of ATCA are positioning it as the perfect platform for SDN and NFV deployments. For the period 2014 to 2019, we project a CAGR of about 7 percent.”
In fiscal year 2013 Artesyn Embedded Technologies (www.artesyn.com) was the largest supplier of ATCA platforms, Colquhoun adds.
MicroTCA begins to make headway
After being perceived as a niche technology, MicroTCA (mTCA) got of to a rocky start in industry as it never truly found a home in the network infrastructure and failed to capture share from competing architectures in other markets. Though mTCA still hasn’t garnered the success many hoped it would, the technology has seen a resurgence in the high-energy physics (HEP) community since the inception of the mTCA.4 specification, and is now gaining traction in a number of other verticals to project solid growth over the next half decade.
“A number of vendors originally committed a fair amount of their resources to mTCA, but this architecture has not lived up to its, perhaps unrealistic, expectations,” Rommel says. “Many expected mTCA to be bigger than ATCA, penetrating not only telecom, but medical and the military as well. While its use has grown, it is unlikely that it ever offers the growth opportunities once predicated.”
“MicroTCA is a fast growing technology, albeit from a low base,” Colquhoun says (Figure 2). “For mTCA systems, the market is projected to grow at CAGR of about 20 percent for the next five years. The applications are diverse and range from medical, industrial, civil aerospace, and communications to HEP.
“MicroTCA.4 accounts for about 20 percent of sales today, and this proportion will increase as even verticals outside of physics can benefit from its feature set,” Colquhoun continues while identifying VadaTech (www.vadatech.com) as 2013’s leading mTCA vendor.
One the mezzanine side, AdvancedMCs (AMCs) have the potential for growth, but the card’s fringe profit margins could also have a negative impact on mTCA systems, Rommel warns.
“There will be some opportunity for mezzanine applications such as DSP and encryption, but in these cases the commodity nature of the product will lead to razor-thin margins,” he says. “As a result, some suppliers will likely de-emphasize mTCA due to the lack of profit opportunity given the niche volumes.”
COM Express overtakes ETX in module market as CompactPCI trends smaller
While small continues to be the new big in most of the embedded space, CompactPCI (cPCI) sales reflect this trend with more and more users migrating to 3U platforms from the larger 6U format. On the one hand, 3U cPCI platforms have remained strong thanks to deployment in conventional embedded applications, but the smaller form factor has also presented new opportunities in markets that stress mobility, analysts say.
“On the CPCI side, the industry continues to transition away from 6U components,” says Colquhoun. “The market for 3U will also shrink, but at a slower rate as it’s sustained by transportation projects.”
“We see the medical space as being particularly interesting, with cPCI and other, smaller form factors gaining more market share as medical equipment becomes more mobile and remote monitoring applications more available via connectivity,” says Daniel Mandell, Analyst at VDC Research.
In the non-backplane small form factor (SFF) board market, another PICMG technology, COM Express, continues to make gains on its competitors. One of the most popular computer-on-module (COM) architectures currently available, COM Express variants are benefiting from wide deployment and continued growth.
“COM Express continues to grow well and COM Express basic is now the workhorse of the COM market, having overtaken ETX/XTX,” Colquhoun says. “Of all COM Express variants, COM Express mini is the fastest growing market.”
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