AdvancedTCA Vendors Look for Growth

Suppliers see shift to 40G Ethernet and low power systems

Following the adoption of a new networking standard, suppliers of embedded computer systems based on AdvancedTCA technology are looking to expand their efforts into new and traditional markets.        

Suppliers are also looking for renewed growth in 2013, amid a sudden and disappointing slowdown in telecommunications and other segments in the second half of 2012.  Still, with the explosion of video in wireline and wireless networks, global sales of systems incorporating AdvancedTCA technology are expected to reach $1 billion this year.

On the standards front, meanwhile, the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) recently announced the adoption of the AdvancedTCA 3.1R2 specification. The standard adds 40 Gigabit Ethernet and other capabilities to the mix.

PICMG 3.1R2.0 also adds various IEEE backplane Ethernet standards – such as 1000BASE-KX, 10GBASE-KX4, 10GBASE-KR and 40GBASE-KR4 – to the technology. A key to those standards is 10GBASE-KR as well as  40GBASE-KR4, which quadruples the maximum bandwidth that was previously achievable.  Both of these use signaling rates slightly over 10-GHz.

The new specification also allows a single chassis to handle data transfers up to 10-terabits-per-second for full mesh designs. This translates into transporting and switching over 2 million High Definition (HD) video channels at the same time.

“The 40-gigabit fabric interface defined in PICMG 3.1R2.0 is the natural evolution for AdvancedTCA platforms,” said Doug Sandy, chairman of the PICMG 3.1R2.0 committee and chief technology officer of the Embedded Computing business of Emerson Network Power. During a presentation at the recent AdvancedTCA Summit in Santa Clara, Calif., Sandy added the new standard will enable AdvancedTCA-based vendors “to expand beyond telecommunications and move into new markets.” 

PICMG is a consortium of companies that develops standards. One of its missions is to devise standards for non-traditional computer markets, such as industrial automation, medical, military and telecom. This has resulted in a series of standards, including those for the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture or AdvancedTCA. Denoted PICMG 3.X, AdvancedTCA are specifications for carrier-grade communications equipment.

On the technical front, AdvancedTCA-based vendors see a gradual deployment from 10G to 40G Ethernet in the WAN.  Within their systems, suppliers are taking a close look at Intel’s Ivy Bridge processor, a 22nm device based on finFET transistors. And what’s more, there is a pressing need for lower-power solutions, said Yoav Katz, president of Asis-Pro.

There are some subtle changes taking place on the marketing front. “ATCA is still growing rapidly. The biggest market remains telecom. That’s been a strong base,” said Rich Vasse, president of Pigeon Point Systems LLC. The company recently announced enhancements to its AdvancedTCA and AdvancedMC management controller solutions, based on the Microsemi SmartFusion intelligent mixed signal FPGA.

But the telecom equipment manufacturers (TEMs), including Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia Siemens, Ericsson and others, have been struggling amid stiff competition and decline in telecom spending. TEMs are also scrambling to generate revenues from mobile services. Traditionally, they relied on the higher-margin but declining wireline segments.

“The world economy also drives the market,” Vasse said. “That’s been a challenge.”

This in turn has forced the TEMs to consolidate their vendor bases, thereby putting the squeeze on AdvancedTCA-based system suppliers. The slowdown in telecom has caused vendors to pay more attention on other markets, such as automotive, industrial, military/aerospace and others.  

All told, suppliers are looking for a better year in 2013. “The second half was slow for everyone,” said Sven Freudenfeld, a systems specialist in the Telecom Business Development unit at Kontron. “Next year will be better.”

Still, there are some bright spots in telecom, namely LTE. “The killer app is streaming media,” said Eric Gregory, director of ATCA product management at  RadiSys Corp. “Mobile video is driving change.”

The shift towards mobile services will fuel the need for new, high-speed equipment based on the 40G Ethernet standard, Gregory said. The new Ethernet technology is faster – and more expensive – than 10G Ethernet, but the prices are dropping for the latest scheme. “We’ve seen a decrease in the cost-per-bit (for 40G),” he said. “You will get three times the performance at 1.3 times the price.”  

Peter Marek, technical director for Advantech, said the market for 40G Ethernet is still in its infancy and just beginning to ramp among the TEMs. Until the prices drop for 40G, 10G Ethernet will remain the dominate technology for some time. “In the backbone, it’s all about 40G,” he said. “In telecoms, you can still sell 10G Ethernet.”

On another technology front, AdvancedTCA-based embedded computer equipment is typically configured with x86- and MIPS-based processor architectures. There are still products based on PowerPC and SPARC. 

Most embedded computing suppliers continue to pack more horsepower in their systems. Emerson Network Power, for one, recently rolled out a new AdvancedTCA media processing blade. With up to 576 DSP cores and running media processing software, the new ATCA-8320 will enable communications equipment companies to simplify and accelerate the development and deployment of high density IP media processing applications.

Rick Li, product marketing and program specialist for Adlink Technology, said there are other considerations beyond speed. “The latest trend is that embedded computing is going into the cloud. I don’t think customers are looking for the latest processors. They are looking for low power,” Li said.

Dave Caserza, embedded computing architect for the western region at Elma Electric, agreed. “You are pushing more and more data in the network. And so you need more bandwidth. But in ATCA, the name of the game is cooling,” he said.

Elma demonstrated a system with 350 Watt cooling per slot. Another vendor, Asis-Pro, recently released its 6 slot AdvancedTCA front-to-back cooled chassis. It has a power distribution of 450W per slot. The cooling scheme uses eight fans that give 65 CFM per slot. The front-to-back design gives Asis-Pro an edge in the market, said Asis-Pro’s Katz.



Mark LaPedus has covered the semiconductor industry since 1986, including five years in Asia when he was based in Taiwan. He has held senior editorial positions at Electronic News, EBN and Silicon Strategies. In Asia, he was a contributing writer for Byte Magazine. Most recently, he worked as the semiconductor editor at EE Times.

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