Why Are There So Many AdvancedTCA Blades?

The growing adoption of AdvancedTCA by a variety of equipment segments is fueling a rich mix of COTS and semi-custom solutions.

By Todd Etchieson, vice president of Communications Networking Product Management, RadiSys

 

Equipment makers, seeking to differentiate their systems, are leveraging semi-custom features offered by AdvancedTCA (ATCA) board and system vendors. Although ATCA is an industry standard with requirements around form factor, thermals, switch fabrics and interconnects, there’s still sufficient flexibility for system developers to provide innovative designs for target applications. This allows developers to incorporate their proprietary technology and optimize their systems around performance, manageability and cost. As a result, ATCA is addressing equipment segments beyond telecom and networking, such as industrial and military, with high availability requirements.

The adoption of ATCA platforms is gaining momentum and ramping quickly, with sales expected to grow at an 81 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 2006-2008 . In a recent study by Venture Development Corporation, sales of merchant AdvancedTCA integrated platforms in 2008 are forecasted to be more than three times that of 2006. “This is consistent with VDC’s view of how new products compete and are adopted into proprietary architectures in cost-competitive markets. At the same time, we forecast strong growth for the larger market in the future,” says Eric Heikkila, director of VDC’s Embedded Hardware and Systems Practice.

Figure 1. AdvancedTCA Blades Support Various Applications

Intel NetStructure® MPCBL0050 Single Board Computer: A high-performance ATCA Compute blade

 

ATCA-9100 ATCA Media Resource Module

Building a Variety of Applications

ATCA blades share a common form factor, simplifying the task of creating multiple network elements based off a single platform. This common architecture fosters both multiple applications with the same assets (blades) and interoperability among different types of blades used in various applications as shown in Figure 1. It also makes it easier for system vendors to offer comprehensive infrastructure solutions, whereby equipment makers can integrate additional elements from the ecosystem as necessary.

There are many categories of ATCA blades supporting a range of functionality including compute, storage and networking. Furthermore, board vendors offer a mix of I/O, compute capacity, backplane interfaces and so on, providing equipment makers with a wide choice for components and subsystems.

When One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Despite the availability of a wide range of “spec” blades, equipment makers may still need semi-custom blades to reach their cost objectives or meet particular system requirements, such as adding a proprietary interface. In addition to designing a custom ATCA blade or developing a custom module for a carrier blade, board vendors are offering commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) blades that provide some additional flexibility to address special requirements.

Protecting IP with a custom blade: Equipment makers migrating to ATCA platforms typically find that a majority of their hardware requirements are met with COTS components. However, there are times when system developers choose to leverage an existing board and software for either differentiation or continuity of legacy functionality. This entails converting the board to an ATCA version, which is a well understood process due to the maturity and extensive use of the ATCA specification.

In telecommunications where five 9’s availability is a critical equipment requirement, some telecommunication equipment manufacturers (TEMs) develop boards in-house to deploy and protect their intellectual property. For example, schemes for keeping CPUs in lockstep so failover is almost instantaneous are typically safeguarded. In these cases, custom blades may be the best choice for maintaining the effectiveness of the proprietary solution and keeping it secure.

Scaling and consolidating with AMCs:

Carrier blades provide an efficient means to integrate a wide range of standard and custom functionality. Since carrier blades already address system, chassis and manageability requirements, AMC module developers can focus on designing in their special functions.

Scaling and consolidating with AMCs: Carrier blades provide an efficient means to integrate a wide range of standard and custom functionality. Since carrier blades already address system, chassis and manageability requirements, AMC module developers can focus on designing in their special functions.

Carrier blades can also be used to combine functionality that may have previously resided on separate blades. A single carrier blade, like the RadiSys Promentum™ ATCA-1200, can accommodate modules for both control and data planes resulting in a more consolidated solution.

Freeing up slots with flexible baseboards:

As an alternative to AMC carrier blades, board vendors are adding open module sites to common building blocks like switch and compute blades. For example, the RadiSys Promentum ATCA-2210 10 Gigabit switch and control module has a COM Express™ site that enables equipment makers to add intelligence to the switch by adding a control module or system manager to the baseboard, as illustrated in Figure 2.

In addition to providing a higher level of integration, this capability may free up a slot by eliminating the need for a separate blade. In Figure 3, the switch and system manger functions are consolidated, usually providing cost reductions and saving a board slot to be used for revenue generation. For highly redundant systems, two slots can be freed up.

High performance compute blades often include an AMC expansion site that can be populated with hard disk drives or Ethernet cards. Adding storage and I/O directly on the compute blade helps reduce cabling and increases system density. In other cases, an adjunct processor can be placed in the expansion slot, providing an offload for functions like security processing.

Flexible baseboards may support mezzanine modules other than AMC, which allows developers to forgo implementing some complex features such as hot swap. These modules can also provide TEMs a simpler, faster and cheaper means to integrate their IP without developing a full-blown ATCA blade.

 

Figure 2. Switch Blade With an Open Module Site

Figure 3. Open Site Frees Up Blade Slots

 

Reusing software with flexible DSP blade:

TEMS developing next-generation systems may still need to maintain support for legacy signaling software. Instead of designing an ATCA version of older proprietary boards, system developers can use blades that provide highest density media processing and ease the migration of DSP software. These blades support debug tools and interfaces to enable DSP management and facilitate the debug of DSP code. One example is the RadiSys Promentum ATCA-9100 which incorporates Serial Rapid I/O connectivity that loads code into DSP memory, tracks messages to and from application Flash memory of the DSP and offers an alternate path from the powerful local management processor (LMP) to the DSP.

Leveraging certification testing:

Equipment makers differentiating their ATCA systems with semi-custom board techniques need to plan ahead for compliance testing. As for ATCA COTS blades, they’re already compliant with strict regulatory requirements such as NEBS, Network Equipment Building System. Manufacturers of carrier grade equipment can appreciate the effort that goes into compliance testing which may include agency testing and NEBS testing. Industry groups such as the Service Availability Forum (SA Forum) and the Communications Platforms Trade Association (CP-TA) are working together to drive the certification of COTS products for the telecommunications industry.

Compliance testing is an expensive and time consuming process that requires specific facilities and staff. Some board and system vendors, well-versed in the complexities and risks involved in NEBS testing, are willing and able to navigate through these challenges for their customers. In some case, these vendors will test and validate an entire system composed of their platforms combined with customer products and third party elements.

MicroTCA Expands AMC Market

Riding the coat tails of the ATCA standard, MicroTCA takes AMC cards, originally designed to plug into ATCA carriers, and treats them like blades that slot into modular backplane/chassis systems. By providing a smaller form factor, MicroTCA can deliver the features of ATCA to equipment at the far reaches of the telecom network. MicroTCA is also starting to get more visibility from system designers looking for high availability in a smaller foot print, while serving the scalability needs of their network elements, especially in access markets such as wireless base stations.

Outside of traditional telecom applications, MicroTCA is generating interest in field-oriented deployments - military, aerospace and government sectors - such as troops on naval ships using WiFi for communications. Interest is also growing in embedded applications valuing high availability, like industrial and process control, medical equipment and instrumentation applications.

Outside of traditional telecom applications, MicroTCA is generating interest in field-oriented deployments - military, aerospace and government sectors - such as troops on naval ships using WiFi for communications. Interest is also growing in embedded applications valuing high availability, like industrial and process control, medical equipment and instrumentation applications.

Contact Information

Radisys Corporation
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Hillsboro, OR 97124 USA
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