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Continuous Computing takes full-sized ATCA strategy

Posted: 05 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MicroTCA? ATCA boards? processor? femto basestations? WiMAX?

While some backers of the Advanced Telecommunication Computing Architecture are betting big on the junior version of the standard, MicroTCA, Continuous Computing Inc. is sticking with full-sized ATCA.

The company's "FlexTCA" program will target three vertical telecom marktetsIPTV, security and wireless core applicationswith integrated products combining processor boards with the Trillium middleware software, which Continuous acquired from Intel Corp.

It is extending its ATCA drive to Tier 2 and 3 telecom equipment manufacturers. Brian Wood, Continuous's vice president of marketing, said smaller manufacturers are looking for bundled solutions in realms where standard hardware platforms do not yet exist, particularly in IPTV aggregation and gateway functions.

Mike Coward, chief technology officer and cofounder of Continuous, said he saw plenty of vendors at the recent ATCA Summit pulling together MicroTCA platforms for telecom based on systems developed for military markets.

While Continuous is interested in the Advanced Mezzanine Card used at the heart of ATCA designs, the company sees little advantage in developing MicroTCA for size reasons alone. Most customers are more interested in developing two- and three-slot versions of systems using full-sized ATCA boards, which can accommodate larger processor suites.

When Intel acquired Trillium Digital Systems Inc. seven years ago, the company's software consisted of telecom protocol stacks. Since Continuous bought it, the Trillium suite has been enhanced with high-availability middleware and platform-management services.

Coward said the full suite will be integrated with four types of hardware in the FlexTCA line: FlexChassis carrier-class shelves; FlexCompute host processor boards; FlexCore switches with integrated load-balancing software; and FlexPacket packet-processing blades. Continuous has also standardized on the use of Raza Microelectronics Inc. packet-processing engines in its hardware.

"Much more of our business used to be modular, in both hardware and software, particularly in Compact PCI days," Coward said. "There's now been a strong shift to pre-integrated systems, and that's particularly visible in the second- and third-tier [manufacturers]. The biggest driver is time-to-market, and that's more important than price or performance."

IPTV markets are ripe for standardized backplanes, Coward added, particularly as carriers move up from simple packet transport of broadcast channels to more complex mixes of network recorders and specialized ad-insertion.

In security markets, Continuous will aim at unified threat-management platforms that combine intrusion prevention, content analysis and firewall functions. The company expects some federal business from intelligence agencies, but is not going to follow several MicroTCA companies into military markets. Despite the appeal of medical, military, gaming and other tangential ATCA markets, Continuous will remain dedicated to telecom customers, Wood said.

In the wireless core, Continuous will aim at switching platforms that integrate 3G, 4G LTE and WiMAX services. Its Trillium software will help move manufacturers to femtocellular basestations, though Wood emphasized Continuous would approach femto basestations from a network perspective, rather than aiming directly at customer-premises markets.

Continuous executives did not rule out future MicroTCA, though they predicted healthy growth for the full-sized FlexTCA product, which begins shipping in the first quarter of 2008.

- Loring Wirbel
EE Times

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