Haswell and legacy extensions wrap up summer

As the summer heat dies down and fall ramps up, so should industry activity after the typical summer vacation slowdown. However, it was still a fairly busy summer for announcements.

Haswell

The summer heat started off with the wave of Intel Haswell 4th generation processor boards announced on June 4. My inbox was sprinkled with product announcements from ADLINK, Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions, Eurocom, GE Intelligent Platforms, Kontron, Mercury Systems, and probably others that I might have missed.

I had to sit back and reflect a bit on the good old days when new processors were announced by Motorola, Intel, or Sun Microsystems, and the race was underway by the board suppliers to make the claim to be the first to announce. The processor suppliers did not have the same tight rein on product announcements as they do now, and the announcement dates were not as restricted.

In those days, board and system suppliers raced to make that "first to announce" claim and then it would be weeks to months before sample products were available. Today, board and system suppliers are more restricted from making announcements until the processors are fully baked, tested, and ready to ship. As a product manager, today's strategy is much easier to contend with, substantially reducing the risk of product release delays due to processor issues. I recall a processor launch that encountered so many delays in getting fully functional processors in the board developers' hands that we actually had to announce the board and system level products three separate times over an 18 to 24 month period. Now all the fun has been eliminated as the dates are more controlled plus the processor suppliers are much better at getting solid, functional parts to developers for product testing.

But on the other hand I struggle with the product differentiation that I observed when I saw all these product announcements on the same day. Without in-depth study of the product feature details, I was not able to distinguish any significant differences in the products. Today's processors come with more complete chip-sets that dictate the processor board's features. Other than adding an FPGA with proprietary IP, there is often little to no differentiation. I struggle to understand how vendors can claim to have innovative boards when they are simply following a recipe provided by the processor suppliers. Maybe this is the push that is moving them further up the supply chain to be system suppliers. I will dig more into this in the coming months.

Legacy products

Another observation I have made this summer is the splash of legacy product announcements that have been made. It started in April when Emerson Network Power announced that they were extending the availability of popular VME boards an additional 2-3 years for a total of 18 years. I did not understand the reasoning for such an announcement since, as a designer, I would not be starting a design using one of these products. And if I were an existing customer, you could have told me directly without issuing a press release.

This was then followed up by an announcement from GDCA, Inc. on the certification of their FAA Repair station for the repair of the Viper809BXA-01 circuit card assembly. Obviously the release was issued to demonstrate their legacy product capability, but again, the audience was extremely limited. [Plug for GDCA - I transferred many obsolete products to them while I was with the Motorola Computer Group.]

My suspicions got stronger with a May announcement from Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions that they too were extending the life of a popular SBC to 2016. They then followed that up with a mailing promoting that Curtiss-Wright can put the "oomph" back into your legacy system with technology insertion options. Even better, they claimed, they have longevity-of-supply processes and options that will end your obsolescence nightmares.

All of this talk about legacy systems and extending the life of older products is important to the critical and intelligent embedded systems market, but today it is expected and is considered a mandatory check-off when selecting a supplier and products.