VITA Standards : Bus & Boards Conference Roundup

The third annual Bus & Board (& Fabrics) conference held January 20-21 in Long Beach, CA was again a standing-room-only event, as the open-architecture bus board industry came together for an update on the latest technical developments and market conditions.

Loring Wirbel, veteran communications maven at Electronic Engineering Times, kicked off Session 1 of the conference with a hard-headed look at the dismal conditions in the telecommunications market and how they got that way. Wirbel also looked into his crystal ball to see if he could find a recovery in sight and suggested some ways the wheels of that recovery might be greased.

Wirbel's controversial keynote was followed by market reports from Eric Guilliksen of Venture Development Corporation, Warren Andrews of the RTC Group, and Jerry Krasner of American Technology International, plus a presentation by Intel's Dave Bottom on the company's modular communications design effort, which is based on PICMG's new Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA). Among other phenomena, Andrews noted a dramatic increase in PC/104 in military applications and about a 15 percent growth rate in embedded computers used for medical applications.

Session 1, Interconnects, presented a status report on three key technologies vying for the hearts and minds of system engineers: PCI Express, RapidIO, and PCI-X. Bala Cadambi of the PCI SIG gave an introduction to PCI Express, followed by Larry Chisvin of PLX Technology and Todd Comins of StarGen discussing the forthcoming Advanced Switching enhancement to PCI Express. Rick O'Connor of Tundra Semiconductor then presented a RapidIO update and David Dorrough of ServerWorks discussed PCI-X 2.0 and possible future extensions of the technology.

Among other comments, O'Connor noted the "rapid adoption" of RapidIO in a number of quarters, citing a slew of coming silicon, while StarGen's Comins cited a number of medical and military wins for StarFabric. The company, instrumental in PCI Express Advanced Switching, has chosen that interconnect for its next-gen follow-on to StarFabric. As for PCI-X, Dorrough presented a vision of that PCI extension as possibly being extended in the future beyond the 533 Mbytes/sec of PCI-X 2.0.

In Session 3, The PICMG Hour, Dick Somes discussed the ongoing and anticipated technical activity at PICMG, while Chuck Byers of Lucent Technologies outlined his vision of a future "universal telecommunications platform" based on AdvancedTCA and Brough Turner of Natural Microsystems described the market opportunities for AdvancedTCA in telecommunications. The current PICMG activity includes mappings for InfiniBand, StarFabric, and PCI Express onto Advanced TCA, with future work expected on CompactTCA architecture, a mapping of Serial RapidIO onto CompactPCI and an advanced fabric interconnect standard based on the Network Processing Forum's streaming interface.

Session 4, The VITA Hour, contained updates on the military and European markets, respectively, by John McHale of Military & Aerospace Electronics and Hermann Strass of VITA Europe; details on advanced 2eSST VME interface chips by Robert Negre of Thales Computer and Ian Thomas of Tundra Semiconductor; an InfiniBand presentation by Kevin Deierling of Mellanox Technologies; plus status reports by Jeff Harris of Motorola Computer Group on the VME Renaissance and VME Switched Serial (VXS) standard (VITA 41) and by technical consultant Bob Downing on the VITA 34 (Framework for Scalable High-Speed Serial Architecture) liquid cooling project. McHale noted that RapidIO has been selected for an upgrade to the F16 and Joint Strike Fighter.

A number of the items discussed at the formal presentations were also evident at the dozen or so vendor tables around the periphery of the conference room. APW, for example, demonstrated an implementation of the VME 34 cooling scheme in a 19-inch rack system, using 30 ounces of Freon 134A to cool a 500W VME board and keeping the Freon to a 10°C temperature differential to prevent condensation. Elsewhere, a number of companies including Rittal, Pentair, and APW demonstrated AdvancedTCA racks.

StarFabric made an especially strong showing at B&B, with a PICMG 2.17 (StarFabric on CompactPCI) interoperability demo spanning four tables with equipment from StarGen, Bustronic/Elma, Kaparel, and Diversified Technologies. Aurora Technologies, Dy 4 Systems, K.K. Rocky, Synergy Microsystems, Radstone Technology, Applied Control Concepts, and VRose Microsystems also showed PICMG 2.17 products.

The RapidIO Trade Association in turn announced that both RapidIO and Serial RapidIO have been accepted as ECMA standards and that it has completed a PMC-compatible mezzanine specification for RapidIO and turned the documentation over to VITA for standardization.

An interoperability demonstration of switched Ethernet on CompactPCI (PICMG 2.16), conducted at B&B 2002, was conspicuous by its absence at B&B 2003.

Elsewhere on the news front, a group of companies consisting of SKY Computers, SBS Technologies, and Mellanox announced that they have gained approval to form a working group under the InfiniBand Trade Association to define a subset of InfiniBand for embedded applications and that they have also formed a SIG under VITA to incorporate InfiniBand into VME.