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The Migration Path to MicroTCA

Mon, 09/12/2011 - 8:13am
Jeff Elliott and Mark Lowdermilk, Embedded Planet, www.embeddedplanet.com
Jeff ElliottThe primary selling points for MicroTCA are impressive: an affordable next-generation computing architecture, high communications bandwidth, the latest multi-core processors, support for redundancy and high availability – all in a small system foot print that is extremely scalable.

But as with any emerging standard, adoption by its target markets is the ultimate measure of an architecture’s success.

In the case of MicroTCA, several markets stand squarely in its crosshairs: the telecom market with a focus on network and wireless communications equipment; test and measurement, including communications test and high speed manufacturing inspection equipment; and the increasingly communication-centric Mil/Aerospace market. Additional potential markets include medical imaging, industrial controls and the physics research community.

MicroTCA image1Within these markets, MicroTCA is hoping to attract interest from CompactPCI and VME users looking for a next generation architecture that can deliver the increased performance, scalability and longevity these aging architectures lack, as well as AdvancedTCA adherents that are looking for a less expensive - yet still robust - feature set in a much smaller footprint.

Although MicroTCA was introduced by the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) in 2006 there are already over 50 companies worldwide offering Advanced Mezzanine Card (AMC) modules for the standard. This can be attributed to the fact that MicroTCA utilizes the same AMC cards as another PICMG effort – AdvancedTCA – which started in 2002. Since there is an overlap of the ecosystems in that regard, both architectures benefit.”

The Move from AdvancedTCA

Perhaps the most logical migration path to MicroTCA lies with AdvancedTCA users looking for a lower cost solution and a smaller footprint.

The original intent of AdvancedTCA was to meet the requirements of the next generation of “carrier grade” wired and wireless networking and telecommunications equipment such as media gateways, video transcoders and IPTV. As a result, AdvancedTCA was created to deliver massive processing and bandwidth with high availability and built-in redundancy.

However, it has also been unofficially dubbed “big iron” due to its overall size. For many applications, AdvancedTCA may be overkill and the final solution is usually quite large. For those that prefer AdvancedTCA’s features, but don’t want to invest in unnecessary functions and are looking for a smaller footprint, MicroTCA is a natural choice.”

With communication bandwidth capabilities in the range from 40 Gbits/s to over 1 Terabit/s, MicroTCA has more than enough bandwidth for most demanding applications. MicroTCA image 2

Starting with a very small two blade chassis and scaling up to a maximum twelve blade solution, 2U MicroTCA Processors blades (PrAMCs) can be networked together to deliver a tremendous amount of computing resources, particularly when each could be designed with the latest multi-core processors to further increase computing power. Additional system components include power modules, cooling units, and AMCs for everything from mass storage to high end graphic cards.

Ideal product applications for the MicroTCA architecture include wireless base stations, Wi-Fi/WiMAX radios, optical networks, and media servers, to name a few. OEM test and measurement equipment for network enterprise and wireless equipment are also well served by MicroTCA’s feature set.

MicroTCA also delivers the high-reliability inherent in AdvancedTCA with availability up to five nines (0.999999). As with AdvancedTCA, redundancy and cooling configurations can be scaled for full, partial or no redundancy depending on the application’s requirements.

A Next Generation Platform for VME and CompactPCI

Although VME and CompactPCI are still viable for many applications, these architectures are struggling to meet the demanding bandwidth requirements of today’s increasingly communication-centric industrial and military applications.

As a result, many VME and CompactPCI users are looking for that next generation platform that can deliver on both counts. MicroTCA has the added benefit of further decreasing the size of the final solution, with its 2U cards being smaller than VME and CompactPCI’s 3U and 6U offerings.

Making the Move to MicroTCA

To facilitate the move to MicroTCA, companies such as Embedded Planet are going one step further to offer integrated solutions to help reduce the complexity, improve time to market, reduce risk to OEM partners by delivering application specific solution that meets the customer’s exact needs.

Customers may be used to dealing with multiple vendors, particularly with VME, Compact PCI and AdvancedTCA. But in this economy with few resources, less time, and the need to get to market quickly, OEMs are searching for technology experts to help them reduce costs and improve time to market. “Application ready” solutions drastically reduce integration time and costs and eliminate the need for customers to work with multiple vendors and integrate the components into a complete system themselves.

In December, 2010, Embedded Planet moved from simply producing off-the-shelf PrAMC boards for AdvancedTCA and MicroTCA in favor of delivering complete solutions ready to run out-of-the-box for embedded applications. The modular embedded computing marketplace, including MicroTCA, can be difficult to navigate and the company’s goal is to simplify that for the customer.

Embedded Planet is partnering with other leading companies in the MicroTCA ecosystem space, including Concurrent Technologies, N.A.T. for Network I/O modules and carrier hubs and MicroBlade for chassis, backplanes and power modules.

The final solution will be an application specific solution that is assembled and pre-tested before it is delivered to the customer. With an integrated solution, the customer can focus on higher levels of activity that bring them more value. So there are savings in terms of direct cost, savings in indirect costs and a reduction in risk factors.

For more information, contact Embedded Planet at (216) 245-4180 or visit www.embeddedplanet.com
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