In the mirror: VITA, VSO, and VPX

We started the decade of 2010 with a shiny new working group called VITA 65: OpenVPX. What evolved from there made 2010 a year of incredible progress for VITA, the VSO standards organization, and the VPX spec itself. Sometimes I grouse at VITA’s Executive Director Ray Alderman for having “so much time on [his] hands that [he] can afford to waste [mine]” with endless minutia about guns, ammo, and the failing banks in Ireland. But Ray’s no dummy: He’s got talented people working for and with him, and VITA stands out as the model open-standards organization that gets things done. (He didn’t pay me to write that.)

The year is closing with a dozen new member companies, bringing VITA’s roster to 137. This roster is uniquely composed of vendors and users; this makes VITA different because many of the Working Groups (WGs) are headed by actual user companies with a vested interest in stuff that works, not just sells. In addition to taking VITA 65 to ANSI and getting it approved as an official spec, VITA drove three stakes in the ground this year: optical interconnects, rugged mezzanines, and rugged Small Form Factors (SFFs).

Rugged everywhere

I got a big kick out of watching Themis Computer and PCI-SYSTEMS lob spitballs at each other with competing SFF proposals at a spring VSO meeting. In the interest of fairness, each became a WG (73 and 74), while Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing (CWCEC) sponsored a from-scratch SFF proposal that became WG 75. This latter one is interesting because it’s not vendor-specific and has users (like Boeing) and vendors (like Mercury and CWCEC) hot-to-trot. Rugged SFFs in “shoeboxes” smaller than VPX make sense in so many systems like UASs, sensors, satellites, and portable anti-IEDs.

If VITA creates a successful rugged and affordable solution, COM and PC/104 will be history in DoD systems, if only because users would be most comfortable with a VME-like supply chain and life-cycle management. Insiders predict lots more activity with VITA 75 in 2011, perhaps matching the on-target goals that brought OpenVPX to an 18-month reality.

As for rugged mezzanines and optical interconnects, the VITA 71 WG is studying more robust mezzanine-expansion LRUs, while Ray himself is trotting out optical backplanes as the next generation beyond 5 Gbps switched serial fabrics. VITA 66 is a toe in the water, looking at adding optical interconnects into VPX.

Survey says …

According to VITA representative Jerry Gipper, the group conducted a statistically relevant survey this year, looking at market awareness of its technologies and asking respondents about future technologies. (You can find my comments on the survey at www.mil-embedded.com/articles/id/?4809.) The full survey results have now been made public, and are at http://bit.ly/VPXsurvey.

In short – VITA concluded that while market awareness is pretty good, there’s room for improvement and 2011 will see more outreach efforts and the formation of additional marketing alliance groups. VME’s 30th birthday occurs in 2011 (can you believe it?), so expect to see some dusted-off “branding” efforts next year. Some of these efforts will come from at least one new marketing alliance for rugged SFFs to supplement the existing FMC, VXS, and VPX marketing alliances.

In 2010, the VPX Marketing Alliance grew to 33 members and boasted more than 175 products posted to the online product directory. The goal is to include more than 300 new products – not bad for a collection of companies that started working together as recently as December 2009. For 2011, they plan on releasing at least eight technology-related press releases, conducting a series of “mini” surveys, and having a strong presence at trade shows including RTECC events and MILCOM.

Finally, on the technology side, the survey and market feedback revealed that there’s confusion concerning VPX versus OpenVPX. “Which is which?” people wondered. Also, there are still too many OpenVPX profiles, watering down the promise of interoperability with so many choices available (more than 100 and counting). Neil Peterson of the VPX Marketing Alliance proposes that three or four can form the most basic interoperability.

VITA’s accomplishments in a mere 12 months are astounding. With a robust set of initiatives for 2011 on tap, we can stop looking in the mirror and gaze out the windshield at the events yet to come. Happy new year, VITA.

Chris A. Ciufo cciufo@opensystemsmedia.com