Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Fourth Generation Proves ATCA to be a Truly Scalable Platform

Any doubt that ATCA scalable platform has been removed with the introduction of fourth-generation platforms. These fourth-generation platforms will support 40Gbit/s, 10Gbit/s, 4Gbit/s or 1Gbit/s to each blade. Although there are some restrictions, a fourth-generation platform can include blades from any previous generation. This gives network equipment providers a rapid upgrade path with minimal engineering investment and significant future proofing.

At the recent xTCA and COTS Virtual Event staged by Light Reading, speakers from both ATCA vendors and network equipment providers highlighted the benefits of using ATCA for telecom systems. See xTCA & COTS Virtual Event to view archive. Having shifted most customers onto 10 Gbit/s platforms ATCA vendors RadiSys and Continuous Computing are now shipping 40Gbit/s ready platforms and expect to be shipping 40Gbit/s switch blades within 12 months. System developers will be able to choose whether to support 40 Gbit/s on all blades or just a few blades giving ultimate flexibility.

In his keynote speech Anthony Ambrose, VP and GM, Communications Networks, RadiSys discussed the use of ATCA platforms in LTE networks. Network equipment providers can deliver higher integration and greater density by using 40 Gbit/s platforms reducing the capital cost per user. During a panel session on building 40Gig platforms for emerging applications, speakers from ATCA vendors and network equipment provider Procera Networks were unanimous that 40Gig platforms were becoming available quickly and would replace 10Gig platforms for many applications from 2012.

In a second panel session, speakers from ATCA vendors Continuous Computing, Kontron and RadiSys were joined by Paul Phillips, Sr. Director of System Architecture, Genband. All the panelists agreed that ATCA systems could be easily upgraded to higher performance processors and faster switching and that ATCA was the only truly scalable platform for many telecom systems. In the second keynote Paul Steinberg, Home and Networks Mobility Business, Motorola explained that Motorola had completed a full evaluation of existing ATCA based designs and alternative platforms before committing to use ATCA across a range of new systems.

Several clear messages came from the event; upgrading ATCA platforms to higher performance and density is now relatively simple. ATCA is now well established with many network equipment vendors using the platform and 40 Gbit/s switching is further expanding the use of ATCA by both existing and new users.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

It’s time to revisit MicroTCA

Many commentators have written off MicroTCA as too expensive for mainstream adoption. But are they missing a key development? Like many new technology implementations, first-generation MicroTCA platforms were designed for flexibility rather than low-cost. The latest platforms address the cost issue head-on with cost optimized solutions for multiple applications from the enterprise to the carrier edge. So now is the time to re-evaluate MicroTCA as a key platform for new developments.

MicroTCA is a hugely flexible platform with many different chassis configurations and options of switching, clocking, power and cooling. Early adopters are using MicroTCA across a wide range of applications including wireless base stations, multimedia gateways, military communications and industrial control. At the core of the MicroTCA system is the MicroTCA carrier hub (MCH). The MCH integrates switching, clocking and system management. For carrier grade systems dual MCH modules, dual power supplies and dual cooling trays are usually required.

Equipment manufacturers have been slow to adopt MicroTCA often citing the cost of chassis, AMC modules and, most often, the MCH. Although all MicroTCA systems require MCH, cooling and power supply, the MicroTCA specifications do not mandate these functions are separate modules. This gives vendors significant flexibility when designing solutions for enterprise and other non-carrier class applications. During the last twelve months the number of MicroTCA chassis and systems available has more than doubled and vendors have dramatically reduced the cost of MicroTCA systems by optimizing chassis design, limiting flexibility and integrating key functions on to the backplane or chassis.

The Advantech starter kit includes a six slot MicroTCA chassis with MCH module, Intel Core2 Duo U7500 CPU based AMC module and a storage AMC module integrating 80GB SATA HDD, all for €1,999 (<$1,500). The Armvida Edge2000 with Gigabit Ethernet switching and two AMC slots costs just $500. For larger systems the Performance Technologies AMP5070 with 6 AMC slots is under $2000 in volume. For carrier grade applications systems are available from nearly ten vendors including Advantech, GE Intelligent Platforms, Emerson, Kontron and Performance Technologies. Many of these also offer lower cost configurations for less demanding applications.

A key reason for considering MicroTCA is the rapid introduction of AMC modules. There are now more than 200 AMC modules available integrating many functions including general-purpose CPU, DSP and FPGA, storage, packet processing and I/O. I/O modules are available with support for most network interfaces, general-purpose interfaces and some analog lines. Using these AMC modules equipment providers can build almost any small-scale networking or computing system.

It takes at least five years for any new platform to become established. This was true of AdvancedTCA and many preceding platforms, including CompactPCI, so we should not be surprised by the relatively slow adoption so far as the five-year anniversary for MicroTCA comes in the middle of 2011. The level of support already demonstrated by the ecosystem and early adopters suggests that MicroTCA is on track to reach mainstream adoption during 2011 and 2012. If you want to be ahead of the competition then you should be looking at MicroTCA as a key platform during 2010.