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January 2007
Volume 10 / Number 1

Fault Resilient Computing for Telecom

By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis: ( Page 1 || Page 2 || Page 3 || Page 4 || Page 5 )

First Arrivals

One of the first companies to take ATCA seriously was RadiSys ( Grant Henderson, Vice President of Marketing for RadiSys, was formerly with Convedia, a builder of exemplary media servers, among other things. RadiSys announced the acquisition, of Convedia on July 27, 2006 and closed the deal on September 1, 2006. It involved about $105 million cash plus an additional $10 million or so over the following year, so it will probably add up to about $115 million.

“Both companies have been strengthened by this ‘marriage’ as opposed to having one side benefit from it,” says Henderson. “There are a lot of synergies we were able to leverage from this deal.”

“From a Convedia perspective, we felt that we had reached a point in our company where we were very successful but had to invest in our business even more,” says Henderson. “We had a very small sales organization, because we sell products principally through channels to telecommunications equipment manufacturers [TEMs] such as Avaya, Siemens or Alcatel. We also saw increasing business opportunities but we would have to ‘blow up’ our business front-end in terms of adding more heads and more geographic reach.”

“RadiSys essentially kept everybody,” says Henderson. “There’s no attrition, no layoffs as a result of this. That’s because they see this as a very synergistic move and they view Convedia as a growth engine, as opposed to looking to operational efficiencies. We will continue to offer the former Convedia products to the market, and they’ll continue to evolve and be sold under the RadiSys brand. The Convedia name itself is a product brand. If you’re familiar with RadiSys’ product portfolio, they have their AdvancedTCA [ATCA] portfolio, and that’s called Promenthum. Convedia becomes a media service portfolio, so the name ‘Convedia’ will be kicking around for a while, but no longer as a corporate brand. You’ll refer to the ‘RadiSys family of Convedia media servers’, which is how we can get around two company brand names conflicting with each other. The media servers will still be called the CMS-1000, CMS 6000 and CMS 9000.”

“RadiSys is one of the leaders in ATCA and there are a number of different variants of the hardware that house different switching fabrics,” says Henderson. “RadiSys was the first to market with a fully-functional 10 gigabit per second [Gbps] switch and they’re getting a lot of good traction in that particular area.”

“Convedia had already embraced ATCA prior to any dialog with RadiSys,” says Henderson. “Back in April 2006, Convedia announced an initiative called eXtended Media Processing [eXMP] technology, which extends our carrier-class IP media processing expertise to cover the whole range of media processing deployment options, from small enterprise customer point solutions running on third-party platforms such as ATCA- and Linux-based servers, on up to the biggest carrier-class IMS multi-service deployments assembled from purpose-built hardware.”

“About 75 percent of RadiSys’ sales, but even more of their R&D, are going into the communications networking side,” says Henderson. “In addition, we also have a commercial business which supplies things such as long-life commercial computer platforms to the medical and various other industries, which represents about 25 percent of the sales, but the bulk is very much in the communications space. That includes wireless, where we’re a big supplier of technology for Nokia’s 2G, 2.5G and 3G platforms. We’re also into providing equipment that gets used in the messaging platforms of Comverse, Nortel, and so forth. RadiSys’ enjoys annual revenues of about a quarter billion U.S. dollars.”

“RadiSys has been investing very significantly into ATCA over the past few years,” says Henderson. “From our perspective, and what we understand from the analysts’ reports, RadiSys is definitely in the top two ATCA makers globally, and really made a very significant push with the 10 gig switch platform they introduced and demonstrated in their booth at the 2006 GlobalComm show.” [GlobalComm is now called NXTcomm.]


Way Down South

Another bellwether of the embedded computing industry is Diversified Technology (, also known as DTI, which successfully demonstrated way back in June 2003 an ATCA processor board at the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) sponsored Interoperability Workshop (“PlugFest”) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Diversified Technology’s huge facility, styled after an antebellum mansion and nestled among the fragrant magnolia blossoms of Ridgeland, Mississippi, churns out a wide range of fault resilient systems and single board computers in various form factors.

Back in the days when Yours Truly was the Chief Technical Editor of Computer Telephony magazine, I gave Diversified a 1996 Product of the Year Award for their 20-slot FTS910, a 19-inch rackmount version of their FTS910V Fault Tolerant Telco platform. The following year, 1997, I gave them a Product of the Year Award for the 300 MHz LBC8511 Pentium II PICMG CPU board, which employed Intel’s then-new Single Edge Contact cartridge package technology for Slot 1 processors.

Today, Diversified Technology continues to move with the times and is plunging into contemporary form factors such as ATCA.

Joe McDevitt, Diversified’s Vice President of Technical Marketing, says, “ATCA is pretty much focused on serving telecommunications. Diversified Technology has also been focused on telecom and high-end computing platforms for over 15 years. We used to do a lot of custom-designed servers that were NEBS compliant back in the 1980s. That’s when DTI built its reputation, on providing x86 style computers in a very telecom-focused market. Much of that was custom work, and one would think that ATCA could ultimately hurt our custom business, but we’ve seen a lot of success in providing such functionality in a standard form factor. We will continue providing high-end CPUs to the telecom market. Even though ATCA is an open standard, I still see the occasional need for some amount of customization. You might have one person talking about a slightly different fabric configuration than what would be standard or special peripherals on the board, but you can never guess what the customer is going to need. It could be extra Static RAM [SRAM], it could be dual core, which has certainly become popular, and Flash imaging of software has come about too.”

“The cornerstone attribute of the ATCA chassis is that it moves the center of the action from the CPU to a switching component,” says McDevitt. “So, with ATCA, we’ve developed a switching competency to match that. Diversified has always prided itself at being at the center of helping customers get to market quickly, which is a sort of ‘byproduct’ associated with what we do and what ATCA is all about. In any case, I’m very bullish on ATCA. This year we really saw traction, both on our CPU board and our switch sides. Moving forward, it does get challenging for DTI per se, but I think we can find our niches in such a market. If an Alienware or Voodoo Computers can survive in the presence of Dell and very low cost desktops, then DTI can do the same thing in the telecom market.”

“ATCA has been really great for us,” says McDevitt. “It’s helped us erase the memory of the dot com bust days, and we’re moving forward with it. At the AdvancedTCA Summit we showed our new 10 gigabit per second [Gbps] Ethernet switch — and this isn’t our first 10 gigabit switch. We do have an InfiniBand switch too, so 10 gigabits is nothing for us. We’ve been building those for about two years. But we will now have an Ethernet offering and we showed a dual core / dual processor CPU based on Opteron, Revision F at the ATCA Summit. So we continue to move forward. Our roadmap stretches out into 2007 with ATCA, with a ‘laser focus’ on new CPU nodes and switching components.”

“I think the coming of 10 gig Ethernet is basically the watershed event that ATCA needed,” says McDevitt. “In the early days of ATCA, about three years ago, I can remember going to my first industry expo, showing off an early prototype of an ATCA board. Someone asked me, ‘What’s that?’ and I described ATCA. We commented on various things and then he asked ‘What’s the speed of the switch fabric?’ At that time, it was only one gigabit Ethernet. I had heard a lot of comments to effect that, ‘Well, my proprietary system does 2 or 3 gigs per second now, so this ATCA stuff is of no use to me since it’s slower than what I have now.’ But with a 10 gigabit system, you leapfrog over all of those proprietary systems and you get the real value of ATCA. The switch costs come down. It’s a hard sell to make, a 1 gig Ethernet switch blade in an ATCA box, because you can get a Netgear box at the same price, but I think a 10 gig ATCA switch component will be competitive with the 1 gig pricing, which just blows the socks off of the 10 gig external switch price. You can also get the chance to replace your proprietary system with something that’s faster, something that you didn’t develop, so your NRE [Non-Recurring Engineering cost] will decrease significantly.”

“The one major hurdle left for ATCA to surmount relates to I/O [Input/Output] functionality,” says McDevitt. “You’ll see some penetration in the IMS area, since IMS harbors very I/O-centric applications, but I don’t know that I see a lot of penetration yet in the I/O heavy applications. But hopefully, with the recent AMC developments and more boards that support AMC, that will help boost equipment sales as well.”

“I thought the Advanced Switching fabric would have been good for ATCA,” says McDevitt, “but it’s hard to bet against Ethernet, and I’m not betting against Ethernet. I like to say that I’m totally fabric agnostic; I’ll do whatever the customer wants, but at the end of the day they all want Ethernet. InfiniBand has some really good characteristics, but in the end it’s the old story of a better engineered product that just didn’t sell. So I don’t think anybody is betting against Ethernet.”

“Another well-known switch fabric, RapidIO, has got its niche,” says McDevitt. “It natively connects well to DSPs and I believe that on I/O centric issues it has a good solution for getting a lot of data into and out of the box — that all-important I/O for handling high bandwidth situations.”

“CompactPCI still has some life in it,” says McDevitt. “DTI is never one to jump to a new ship and forget about the older, legacy stuff. Not only is there a need in our market for our five years’ of component availability, but you need a much longer product line availability. So we don’t ship to the 3.0’s and forget about the 2.0’s. We have lead-free, dual core Xeon-based CompactPCI devices that are coming out later this year, and we will drive some of our switching technology into CompactPCI to provide PICMG 2.16 ‘Ethernet on the backplane’ compliance with 10 Gig uplinks. That’s a lead-free solution too.”

“With CompactPCI, customers hope for a fair number of available upgrades,” says McDevitt. “I don’t think anybody’s making lots of new deployments on CompactPCI, unless you’re really, intensively into I/O — perhaps some of the automation guys, and that sort of thing. If you’ve got an existing product, and you’re going to try to keep it around and in use and you don’t want to make the jump to ATCA or MicroTCA technology, you’ll find that some our CompactPCI products have gone to the European lead-free standard, and there have been standard upgrades in performance, with faster fabrics and faster processors.”

“As for MicroTCA, the spec is pretty much nailed down,” says McDevitt. “But the cost of that technology scares me a bit, unless you shoot for real economy of scale. We’re not an enormous company, so we’re not yet set up to build 10,000 boards at $500 a piece. But over time things will probably improve.”




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