VITA: Another Auld Lang Syne

Love him or hate him (I practice both), VITA’s executive director Ray Alderman has steered his trade association ship past telecom siren songs, failed bus architectures dashed upon the rocks, and financial crises that have capsized the U.S. automotive industry and nearly swamped the American economy. Alderman is an unpaid columnist in this very magazine, and he and I routinely disagree on all manner of subjects – from politics to PCI Express. But he still deserves kudos for continuing to make successful the non-rack group formerly known as the VMEbus International Trade Association (VITA). Let’s take a look back at 2009 and then get a little dreamy-eyed wishing on the new decade starting in 2010.

2009 review

Only a man on a mission could be so fundamentally driven and get as many things done as he did in 2009. “The year started off with gnashing of teeth,” says Alderman, concerning OpenVPX. The heavily user-driven VITA literally took his advice that the VITA 46 (VPX) specs disregarded system interoperability and something needed to be done. White Knight Mercury Computer hooked up (technically speaking) with Boeing and others to craft a solution. The OpenVPX Industry Working Group, which was a sort of exclusive sandbox in which everybody couldn’t play, raised all kinds of hackles and spilled lots of negative press ink. Eventually there was peace in Oz as 28 companies started pulling the oars in unison. Ba-da-bing! OpenVPX became VITA 65 in October. (See our “Special OpenVPX Supplement with Executive Speakouts” in this issue.)

Next came the Great Sorting out of Mezzanine Cards through VITA 57 FMC (FPGA Mezzanine Card), VITA 42 XMC (a new connector to PMC for serial fabrics), and a kickoff for VITA 67 to “adapt RF and optical connectors” to PMCs, says Alderman. In 2009, I was shocked when FPGA companies like Altera and Xilinx endorsed VITA 57. What’s a semiconductor company doing with a VITA spec, I wondered. A whole bunch of vendors announced FMC and XMC products in 2009. You know who you are. Take a bow.

As well, Alderman’s vision of Ex Ante seems to be gaining traction. Though some saw it as a gun-to-the-head (in 2008), VITA’s policy says that members “have a legal obligation to disclose any and all essential patents” that might affect any committee work. When adopted, only one member broke their toys in protest. (OpenSystems Media, a VITA member, voted in favor of Ex Ante.) According to Alderman, Europe’s Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI, www.etsi.org) now has an Ex Ante policy, and various groups in China are also considering it. Who knew?

VITA itself grew during 2009, with 22 new members climbing aboard (and 14 jumping ship). That’s a net gain of 8 if my math works – pretty good in a lousy economy; also good, considering VITA’s market is nearly entirely MIL/COTS these days.

Finally, Alderman rekindled the fire under the VITA Marketing Group (VMG), an all-volunteer committee that was cofounded by yours truly and smiling people named “Jerry” and “Valerie.” The VMG will help to market VITA standards and grow opportunities for the member companies. As well, a new Marketing Alliance program was announced this month to: “… continue the work done by the OpenVPX Marketing Working Group in promoting OpenVPX and establishing an ecosystem …” yadda, yadda (long overdue, and we all know it). Good stuff, though. Plan on an FMC Marketing Alliance next, says Alderman in an email to VITA members.

The next decade: 2010 and beyond

Whew. Can this pace continue? “Plan on it,” says Alderman. “It’ll be an interesting year.” He predicts that the long time-to-money gestation in design wins will see increasing revenue over the next 12 to 18 months in plain old VME, while today’s OpenVPX (and REDI) design wins will ramp up thereafter. “Plan on 50/50 VME/OpenVPX by about 2014,” Alderman predicts.

VME itself is long from dead. Alderman is getting as fired up about optical backplanes as he was about cooling a few years ago. (Remember CoolCon? Me, neither.) But this time he may be right. 10/100 GbE just rings or melts copper, one of the two. Fiber is the future at these speeds. VITA plans on starting an optical study group (engineers with spectacles?) to collect lots of data on architectures, connections, and silicon. Within a year or two, new VITA committees will be formed to standardize what they’ve learned. Expect to see new VITA specs (“VITA 100”?) within 4 to 5 years.

Finally, for those industry insiders among you, VITA will resurrect the old Bus and Board conference in 2010 (probably in Scottsdale, AZ – in August). Hard to believe VITA could get any hotter. As we close out 2009 and ring in 2010, I predict many happy returns for this longstanding trade organization … and its executive director.

Chris A. Ciufo cciufo@opensystemsmedia.com