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ATCA advocates seek to open up software features

Posted: 26 Oct 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ATCA? AdvancedTCA? embedded communications computing?

Proponents of the Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture (ATCA) platform are pressing for new initiatives to woo more large telecom OEMs to open standards.

Motorola's embedded communications computing group, in particular, is touting the adoption of an open-source implementation of the Application Interface Spec of the Service Availability Forum (SAF).

Motorola's ATCA group, soon to be sold to Emerson Electric, was touting "OpenSAF Foundation" as a means of providing a high-availability software environment based on SAF work.

Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Hewlett-Packard Co. are among the independent third parties supporting OpenSAF.

ATCA and its smaller-form-factor cousin, MicroTCA (?TCA), now have a galaxy of higher-layer software and firmware coalitions working in concert for open telecom standards. While the PHY ATCA/?TCA standards came from the PCI Industrial Computing Manufacturers Group, the software groups operate semi-autonomously, though all coalitions unite under the Mountain View Alliance.

Among those working with ATCA are: SAF, which defines profiles for high-availability computing; Communications Platform Trade Association, or CP-TA, which helps OEMs define interoperable platforms; Scope Alliance, which analyzes existing profiles and specifications and critiques them for specific telecom applications; and OpenSAF, providing a working implementation of SAF standards.

Asif Naseem, president of SAF and chief operating officer of GoAhead Software Inc., said Motorola's new effort is less a standards body in its own right than a move to shift a high-availability software suite to the open-source community.

"Many software suites could meet SAF standards and be offered as open source and be similar to OpenSAF," Naseem said. "GoAhead could do the same thing if we thought customers would want it."

Brian Carr, strategic marketing manager at Motorola, said the more layers of ATCA support software that are moved to open-source implementations, the richer a support environment will be. Scores of new developers are entering the ATCA community, particularly to develop Advanced Mezzanine Cards used in MicroTCA and in full-size ATCA carrier-cards. But the real growth still seems to be in Europe and Asia.

Who will dominate?
During an economics panel on Oct. 17 at the ACTA Summit, Bart Stuck, executive chairman of CorEdge

cNetworks Inc., said sluggishness among North American OEMs can be partly blamed on the lack of single large players in telecom equipment that dominate the market the way Huawei dominates in China.

Stuck predicted that this year's $100 million to $150 million in ATCA/?TCA sales would expand more than $250 million in 2008, and perhaps top $1 billion in 2009. The total remains modest when compared to the overall $150 billion global telecom equipment market, Stuck said.

Some observers were surprised by International Data Corp. forecast last year that ATCA could reach $8.6 billion in 2011, but Stuck said the projection assumed a large offshore OEM would commit to the standard by then. A single player like Huawei or Ericsson could quickly add several billion dollars in ATCA sales if the company decided to shift all future systems to the architecture.

Full-size ATCA will likely be used in core transport equipment found in telco central offices, while ?TCA will find a home in Edge equipment for network access, as well as in special embedded and military markets formerly wedded to VMEbus. This suggests that ?TCA volumes could overwhelm full-sized ATCA.

Chalenges, opportunities
Stuck noted, however, that 80 percent of system designs on the network edge, where most startups tend to play, represent low-margin, lower-priced systems while the lion's share of profits are realized in core transport systems. Hence, full-sized ATCA would not have to win hundreds of design seats to realize significant revenues, he said.

Motorola showed a 3U desktop system at the summit called the Centillis 2000. While Motorola pushes uTCA in several applications and sizes, the Centillis 2000 is a full-sized ATCA system using only two racks in a 3U chassis. AMC cards used in uTCA have limits in available processing power per card, Carr said.

Centillis 2000 could be used in remote terminals where DSP farms or heavy network processing clusters are required.

IBM displayed perhaps the most unusual hybrid at the summit. IBM's server group has long touted its own BladeCenter architecture, and has opened BladeCenter up to third-party development. At the ATCA Summit, IBM demonstrated how AMC cards could fit within a BladeCenter board, thus marrying ATCA I/O with BladeCenter processor blades.

While some skeptics wondered if IBM had truly solved cooling problems for high-performance AMC cards within IBM servers, IBM is planning a plugfest to test interoperability between AMC cards for ATCA, and the BladeCenter server chassis.

"What this represents is the intrusion of ATCA into the traditional data center domain owned by the likes of IBM and HP and Sun," said PCI Industrial Computing Manufacturing Group President Joe Pavlat.

- Loring Wirbel
EE Times

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