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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 )

Where MicroTCA Fits in

Where does MicroTCA, the “little brother” of AdvancedTCA, fit into their embedded computing hierarchy? Is it meant to be some something compatible with AdvancedTCA but smaller and a bit more capable than CompactPCI, ultimately replacing it?

Marc Leclaire, Product Development Manager, ATCA/AMC/mTCA, for Kontron (, says, “We know that everybody is excited about both ATCA [AdvancedTCA] and MicroTCA. The major vendors have plans and are shipping some products based on ATCA. However, older technologies such as CompactPCI will not fade away within the next couple of years. You will continue to have a lot of deployed CompactPCI equipment out there. What you might see is telecom equipment manufacturers [TEMs] start using the AMCs [Advanced Mezzanine Cards] and integrate them into their proprietary platforms, but CompactPCI will still be around until everybody is fully committed to using ATCA equipment. Indeed, there’s a market that will remain comfortable using CompactPCI equipment for many years. Those who say that CompactPCI is ‘fading away’ are only partially correct.”

“At Kontron, we are fully committed to ATCA,” says Leclaire, “but in parallel with this, our product portfolio also continues to offer new CompactPCI processing blades. Moreover, in 2006 we announced our CompactPCI switch. So, we will basically continue having all three product lines: ATCA/AMCs, MicroTCA and CompactPCI.”

“At the present moment you’re beginning to see some early MicroTCA-based platforms,” says Leclaire, “but it’s fairly early to start developing on MicroTCA. We do see some traction in the market today; mainly it has to do with MicroTCA’s functionality and what could be done with it. By the middle of 2007 I expect that we’ll see more platforms shipping than in 2006.:

Does MicroTCA fill some kind of functional “gap” between older CompactPCI equipment and newer, super-powerful ATCA devices?

“Not really,” replies Leclaire. “It’s actually CompactPCI that fills the gap between MicroTCA and ATCA. We know that ATCA can work in extremely large enterprise applications as well as carrier-grade applications. Everything on the edge, such as access nodes or enterprises, can be served best by MicroTCA, especially as MicroTCA system prices stabilize. On the other hand, ATCA and CompactPCI will be found more in carrier grade environments.”

“We should also keep in mind that there’s a bigger market potential for MicroTCA in applications than either ATCA or CompactPCI,” says Leclaire. “Take military applications, DSLAMs, WiMAX stations, or what have you. Since MicroTCA devices have a very small footprint, they have a wider range of applications.”

Meanwhile, in the Elma Electronic ( empire (Elma Bustronic handles the backplanes, Elma Bustronic builds the backplanes, Elma Optima near Atlanta does the cabinents and racks, and Elma Electronic, Inc. does the chassis, enclosures and components) is also refraining from placing all of its eggs in one basket, though their ATCA efforts represent a major thrust into the market.

Ram Rajan, VP of Engineering of Elma Electronic in Fremont, California, says, “We definitely see ATCA has having a great deal of critical momentum. All new designs are focused on the ATCA form factor. Many telco-centric companies have started up with the aim to sell equipment into the telco market. They’re all attracted by this open standards platform which drastically cuts their time-to-market. So yes, we do see a lot of new designs and activity concerning AdvancedTCA, as opposed to the older CompactPCI form factor. We do see some CompactPCI activity, mostly related to PICMG 2.16 ‘packet backplane’ related technology, and more applications need to be assured of redundancy before they will run on PICMG 2.16 devices with a Shelf Manager, or some kind of segmented backplane with PICMG 2.16. But the trend is definitely more toward using ATCA.”

“The most attractive feature of ATCA is obviously the AMC [Advanced Mezzanine Cards] technology for adding mezzanine or ‘daughtercards’ onto an ATCA board,” says Rajan. “Once you develop AMC technology you can serve either the ATCA or MicroTCA markets, or both. Manufacturers like to have such additional avenues open to them.”

Justin Moll, Elma Bustronic’s Director of Marketing, says, “3U-high CompactPCI systems are still around, particularly in the military and for more compact applications such as the kind you encounter in avionics. Many of these smaller systems are conduction-cooled so you don’t have to worry about running blowers. We haven’t seen a lot activity yet, but there has been some interest brewing lately in CompactPCI Express. [In August 2005, PICMG released the CompactPCI Express Specification that brings PCI Express switch fabric technology to the PICMG 2.0 CompactPCI form factor, while maintaining compatibility with both CompactPCI hardware and software.] What may be interesting down the line in the 3U format is equipment with greater performance but still having backwards compatibility with earlier CompactPCI devices, thanks to CompactPCI Express. CompactPCI is sort of similar to VXS or other technologies where you’re using many of the existing connectors but you’re also now bringing in new high performance connectors for the interconnect switch fabrics. So, CompactPCI Express still uses some of the legacy 2 mm. hard metric connectors, but for some of the new slots it uses a high-speed differential ZD connector or a half or mini-HM connector to handle the fabric.” [In the case of a system slot and peripheral slot type 1 designed to support CPU boards, each slot provides two high-speed ZD connectors: the UPM power connector and a smaller HM connector. In the case of a peripheral slot type 2 and hybrid slot, the peripheral slot type 2, has a ZD connector that provides up to an ‘x8’ PCI Express link and a mini-HM connector for rear I/O and power.]

“At the ATCA Summit in 2006 we showed off a new full MicroTCA cabinet and a bunch of MicroTCA products,” says Moll. “But at one session, a researcher from the embedded market research firm VDC was talking about the AdvancedTCA and MicroTCA markets. He said that MicroTCA is still in that early evaluation stage. The specification had recently become ratified and ATCA is essentially in a ‘phase 2’ situation which involves evaluation and testing to make sure that it works and that there aren’t any ‘issues’ with it. The researcher said that things were moving a bit slower than they expected, especially when you consider that the IMS [IP Multimedia Subsystem] market starting to heat up. IMS involves a major change in the world’s networks and it’s a complex issue, but things are progressing to the point where IMS is starting to hit a ‘critical mass’ and lots of infrastructure equipment will have to be replaced with ATCA-based devices.”

“With MicroTCA in 2006 we saw some prototyping with other developers,” says Moll. “It won’t be until 2008 or 2009 before you start to see large production runs. We’ve announced the largest MicroTCA chassis family in the industry. We have a 4U unit which uses the ‘single-width’ [75 mm high] boards and a 7U unit which uses ‘double width’ [150 mm. high] devices. Either the single-width or double-width devices can be used in our 7U machine. We’ve also released 5U, 6U and 8U units. The 6U and the 8U have redundant cooling, so their fan trays are above and below the card cage; hat’s what you call a ‘push-pull’ configuration. On the other hand, our 4U, 5U and the 7U units have a single fan tray.”

“One thing that is unique for us is that we did not want to enter this market as a ‘me too’ company,” says Moll. “For MicroTCA, it’s a sheet metal solution, and if you’re not careful in the long run, it could reach a commodity status. What we did was to adopt a modular design approach, so we have incorporated extrusions and extra card guides into the design so that you can really configure things easily, just like our other chassis. It’s really easy to change the heights, number of slots or different things within the configuration. That’s unique in this industry.”

Elma Bustronic’s 14-slot MicroTCA backplane features 12 AMC slots, 1 power module slot, and 1 MicroTCA Controller Hub (MCH) slot in the single-width, full-size format. The 14-slot single star backplane on this mode was the first in a whole line of new MicroTCA backplanes from Elma Bustronic. The Elma Bustronic MicroTCA backplane is based on a 16-layer controlled-impedance stripline design. The backplane has a Single Star topology (a Dual Star version with dual power and MCH slots should be available around the time you read this.)

Elma Electronic Inc., also has announced a new 5U MicroTCA shelf, which features pluggable fans trays and an air filter. The 5U MicroTCA shelf comes equipped with a 14-slot Dual Star backplane in the single module, full size format. The backplane offers 10 AdvancedMC, 2-power module, and 2 MicroTCA Carrier Hub (MCH) slots. Cooling is done by three pluggable fan trays with air filtering. One interesting aspect of the Elma MicroTCA line are locking strips that securely hold the modules in place. These are stamped so they can be cut at to any incremental width, which allows some flexibility in the number of modules that can be plugged in and secured.




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