A bridge from VME to FPGAs -- Tundra evolves

Q&A with Tracy Richardson, VP of Marketing, Tundra Semiconductor Corporation

1We’ve been closely associated with Tundra for a long time (formerly Newbridge Microsystems back in the “old” days). Originally one of two suppliers of VME interface chips, Tundra now claims the lion’s share of the VME interface market. And where that market goes, so does Tundra. With 2eSST, PCI Express, and now FPGAs (think VITA 57 FMC cards), Tundra builds a bridge to the future. Edited excerpts follow.

VME: Can you please remind readers what, besides the prolific Tsi148 bridge, comprises Tundra's bridge/switch lineup?

RICHARDSON: Tundra supplies leading communications, computing, and storage companies with smart system interconnect products and design services. Tundra has more than a decade of developing and marketing bridges and switches enabling key industry standards including RapidIO, PCI, PCI-X, PCI Express (PCIe), Power Architecture, VME, and HyperTransport. Tundra has also enabled simplified board design and layout with its specific focus on system-level signal integrity.

VME: A lot of Tundra's bridges are PCI Express compatible. Why that focus?

RICHARDSON: So many of our products focus on PCI Express bridges because PCIe is used in such a wide variety of applications. By providing PCIe interconnect solutions, we address many applications in a very broad range of markets including the consumer and enterprise PC market, telecom, security, and embedded computing markets. PCIe bridges provide excellent bridging and low latency, enabling a high level of system performance. Tundra's bridges are also pin compatible with competing devices, to provide an easy to design-in alternative for existing designs.

VME: While many technology manufacturers are hesitant to even dip their toes into the RoHS pond, why has Tundra decided to wade in RoHS waters?

RICHARDSON: The reason Tundra complies to worldwide standards is that we are a global supplier of interconnect products. Our RoHS-compliant offerings address the various requirements and restrictions set out in many geographic locations around the world. In Europe and Japan, for example, restriction of various hazardous substances is regulated by the government. So Tundra's interconnect offerings address our customers' needs, which in some cases vary by local region.

VME: So, looking forward, why should other vendors offer RoHS-compliant options?

RICHARDSON: Packaging solutions containing lead (Pb) continue to diminish in the marketplace, and in the foreseeable future the market may demand entirely lead-free solutions. Tundra's commitment to remain a worldwide semiconductor supplier is demonstrated through our ongoing efforts to keep up with evolving industry standards, and other companies who want to keep up with their respective markets should work toward RoHS compliance.

VME: Tundra's Silicon Logic Engineering (SLE) division offers FPGA design services. What are the limitations of today's FPGAs, and how can they be solved?

RICHARDSON: Advanced FPGAs have grown in size and complexity with multiple IP blocks and cores. Therefore, their design and verification are more complex than ever. In addition, there is increasing focus on minimizing costs by fitting applications with the most competitively priced FPGAs while still achieving performance targets. So our SLE division has a long history of designing and verifying complex computing cores and working with IP blocks developed by ourselves and others, to help them customers keep up with current high-end FPGA design requirements.

VME: What are the biggest technical challenges your customers face?

RICHARDSON: The biggest technical challenges our customers face are really time-to-market and cost. These don't sound at the surface like technical challenges, but they really are. Time-to-market can be improved by good design reuse, tools, and support.

Additionally, cost is not just the pricing of the semiconductor product, but it also involves innovations in the architecture to reduce overall system cost. In military applications such as signal processing platforms, for example, RapidIO switches enable the reuse of tightly coupled multiprocessor platforms for different applications. We also design products that reduce customers' overall system cost, by integrating functions that remove extraneous components.

VME: How has VME evolved over the years, and will it meet the challenges of future military/critical systems apps?

RICHARDSON: The VME architecture has continuously evolved since its adoption in the 1980s. As processor speeds have continued to increase, so have the performance requirements among the different components in a system - particularly on the backplane where multiple boards must communicate. The VME standard has evolved from 40 MBps to now support 320 MBps with the use of 2eVME and 2eSST protocols.

In addition, VITA has introduced new specifications such as VITA 41 (VXS) and VITA 46 (VPX), which extend system capabilities by utilizing high-speed switched serial fabrics such as Serial RapidIO. This addresses the needs of high-bandwidth data while maintaining VME as a control plane option for performance-hungry systems. These enhancements as well as the ability to operate in harsh environments make VME a viable solution for military and embedded applications going forward.

Tracy Richardson is vice president of marketing at Tundra Semiconductor. He joined Tundra in 2007 and leads the company's worldwide marketing and strategic product development and roll-out activities. Tracy has more than 20 years of executive management in semiconductors and computing systems, along with experience in business development, sales, and marketing, engineering, and strategy development. Prior to Tundra, he held a variety of executive, senior management, and marketing positions within Mercury Computer Systems, Stargen Inc., Intel, Digital Semiconductor, and Digital Equipment Corporation. Tracy received a Bachelors of Science from San Diego State University and a Masters in Business Administration from Bentley College in Waltham, MA. He can be reached at tracy.richardson@tundra.com.

Tundra Semiconductor Corporation