VME, thanks for the memories

I find it ironic and exciting that in this year of the 30th anniversary of the announcement of VMEbus, I am now the editor of VME and Critical Systems magazine. VMEbus and I started our careers at nearly the same time and both with a linkage to Motorola. I started working at Motorola in July of 1981 as a systems engineer, and VMEbus was introduced as a new technology that October.

It wasn’t until 1983 that I first heard of VMEbus, but we have not been far apart since. In that year, I transferred within Motorola to a new position as a systems sales engineer and remember selling my first VME product, a VME 10, that very first day. Back then VME was unheard of; many of my first years were spent conducting VMEbus seminars to introduce engineers to the specification and our new products. The product catalog in those days was very limited in selection. The ecosystems were nonexistent, so finding boards that would work together in a backplane was a daunting task.

Many of us in the field worked hard to find software and hardware partners that could help us solve our customers’ problems. Most customers did a majority of board designs themselves to develop products that met the requirements of their application. A lot of handholding was necessary because open standards were nonexistent back then. Engineers were hungry to learn more, seminars were often packed, and lots of questions were asked, especially since they were trying to design their own boards. As word about VMEbus spread, meetings and deals became easy to arrange. Over time, more products emerged and a lot of the focus switched from internally designed VME boards to system integration. And designers were instead picking from the vast selection of VME boards available from suppliers around the world. Real-time operating system providers picked up on the popularity of VME, providing board support packages for VME architectures. Slowly, all the parts came together, leading to the 30 years of success experienced by VMEbus.

Things have certainly changed; today’s engineers understand open architectures and standards. They embrace COTS products with open arms. Operating system preferences typically dictate the hardware selection instead of being an afterthought. The “make versus buy” battles are much easier to overcome, permitting designs to reach completion much faster. System-level solutions are more common, minimizing the integration challenges of the past. Organizations like VITA were hugely instrumental in enabling this to happen, educating engineers to the benefits of open standards and open architectures. VITA standards evolved to ensure that the technology had a solid migration path to support long life cycles. New specifications emerged to smooth the path of performance, and older specifications were kept fresh to extend product life cycles.

The amount of innovation coming out of the VITA Standards Organization working groups is amazing. Nearly 80 working groups have been formed in the past 10 or so years, working on everything from new architectural frameworks to form factors to interconnect standards to product reliability guidelines and much more in between. There is a tremendous amount of healthy discussion between the members debating the merits of decisions that are being made, leading to specifications that ensure the best technologies possible for critical embedded systems of the future. What I find especially refreshing is the amount of input coming from the user community. The standards that these working groups are developing are definitely getting input from the “voice of the customer.”

As the efforts of these working groups expand, so too does the charter of this publication expand. You will find us continuing to cover VME but also more technology as it relates to critical embedded systems. In 2012, we will be renaming this publication to reflect that expanding coverage.

I certainly look forward to the coming years as even more innovation reaches into our lives. Computing becomes more ubiquitous with each passing year, touching our lives in new ways. Who can even imagine what another 30 years will bring us? I’ve got to believe that somehow VME will still be playing a role.