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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 )

Let’s Not Forget PCI Servers. . .

Of course, the whole world won’t need high powered ATCA equipment. Even in an IMS environment, you’ll still see sales of good old PCI-based 19-inch rackmount servers for lower and medium-sized media processing jobs.

Among the switch fabrics that run on the new form factors, 10 Gpbs Ethernet and PCI Express take the Gold and Bronze popularity medals, respectively. Some fabrics such as PCI Express can also be made to work with older PCI technology.

For example, Carlo Gavazzi Computing Solutions (, another well-known company that specializes in electronic packaging and system expansion solutions, now offers its XP-9E PCI expansion system to support applications requiring PCI cards. The XP-9E is a 4U rackmount enclosure that holds 8 full-length, full-height PCI cards and integrates into the PCI Express bus of new application servers that don’t provide support for full-size or low profile PCI cards. (The XP-9E provides 8 full size PCI 2.3-compliant slots and 1 PCIe x4 slot to support the application’s PCI and PCI Express cards.)

The XP-9E expansion system allows end users deploying PCI-based applications to adopt advanced application servers based on their requirements, rather than on the number of available PCI slots. Thus, there is no reason to now replace an entire server because of slot incompatibility.

Of course, Carlo Gavazzi hasn’t forgotten about AdvancedTCA either. Their new ATCA-based 546 Series is network equipment-building system (NEBs) compliant and designed for high-bandwidth applications. The 5U unit houses six slots in a 3X replicated full mesh extended fabric connectivity interface. The signal integrity environment of each channel’s four ports have been optimized to handle SerDes devices up to 10 Gbps, enabling the 546 Series to provide a total raw aggregate system bandwidth of 3.6 Tbps, four times that of a conventional ATCA System. The 546 Series’ backplane also features two rear-pluggable PEM interfaces and two front-pluggable system management modules.

One company known for its PCI servers (but which is also branching out into making other form factors) is Alliance Systems ( of Plano, Texas. Alliance Systems continues to do a major business selling more traditional equipment, but recognizes the potential bonanza in the new ATCA and MicroTCA marketspaces.

Rusty Cone, Alliance’s President, says: “We continue to seek value opportunities in providing our design-build-ship-support services. With overall convergence in telecom, the bulk of our business is still in telecom. We continue to build infrastructure for software ISVs, OEMs, and enterprise service providers — guys that are hosting solutions and providing valuable services. Much of our business is in the PCI and PCI Express form factors. However, our AdvancedTCA [ATCA] sales were double in 2006 over 2005. In the Intel world we’re a big segment of their entire channel’s market share.”

“We see the adoption of ATCA, obviously in the service provider area, as just beginning,” says Cone. “I don’t think ATCA has ‘crossed the chasm’ yet, but I don’t think there’s any question that ATCA will be the form factor of choice as we all move forward. And we’re just starting to see that some large enterprises are becoming interested in ATCA. That’s interesting in itself. The demand for increasing port density and the move to convergence is driving adoption of software blades or ‘compute’ blades that are powering applications, which is different than what the traditional board guys have been doing.”

“Reviewing data from PICMG, we think that by the end of 2007 the overall ATCA market — and this includes the solution set of that — to be about a $20 billion market,” says Cone. “IDC data suggests that there will be a hardware buy of $6 billion. It’s starting to make some inroads into the $200 billion-a-year core infrastructure business of telecom. Intel is projecting their total ATCA revenue to be somewhere just below $8 billion by 2009. I tell you, there’s a lot of ATCA activity. Here at Alliance Systems, we’ve had over 25 or 30 design wins.”

Alliance Systems’ Field Engineering Manager, Austin Hipes, says, “The first wave of ATCA interest we experienced started about a year-and-a-half ago, consisting not of early adopters but early-cycle guys who just needed some basic ATCA functionality. In the last few months we’ve seen a second wave ATCA opportunities appearing as the technology matures. We expect a third wave toward the middle of next year, if there’s a lot more DSP [Digital Signal Processor]-based boards and a lot of line cards, and as more people adopt a 10 Gbps fabric. We have several designs relating to 10 gig Ethernet, which will probably be predominant.”

Cone adds, “You may have heard of Project Lightspeed. they rolled it out in San Antonio and Houston, Texas. They think there’s a $40 billion TAM [Total Addressable Market] in there footprint after the BellSouth acquisition. They’re turning into a content delivery company, and ATCA is the enabling technology that will drive it out of their hosting centers. Verizon Business is doing much the same thing, except they’re doing fiber to the home, while AT&T was primarily doing fiber to the node, and then a cable or wireless connection from the node to the home.”

Adds Bobbi DeSola, Alliance’s Director of Marketing, “The AMC [ATCA Mezzanine Card] will bring continued functionality into the ATCA form factor. That’s still just emerging and people are still figuring out how to bring the enabling technology into the blades on that side. The AMC cards themselves can be plugged into a smaller MicroTCA system. We’re seen MicroTCA just starting to appear, since the standard has only recently been hammered out. We’ve had a lot of interest in ATCA, particularly devices on the edge of the carriers’ network. Many times, MicroTCA makes more sense in a Class 5 environment, whether that be wireless or wireline, to consolidate a bunch of connections such as DSL or WiMAX or some other high speed wireless technology. However, when you need the extra compute power or need to use the higher speed fabrics, then that’s really where ATCA can kick in. It can be used for test and measurement but basically is used to build Class 4 devices.”


Media Server on a Blade

Dialogic (, the oldest and perhaps most famous telephony board maker of them all, now makes many other kinds of network devices such as gateways. Not surprisingly, Dialogic has also entered the ATCA fray, announcing what’s said to be the industry’s first ‘Media Server on a blade’ in an ATCA form factor. The Dialogic Multimedia Platform for AdvancedTCA is now available for high-density voice, video, wireless and wireline communications services.

Dialogic’s platforms maintain a delicate balance as it walks a tightrope between the older processing model of using DSP-based plug-cards and the newer, more fashionable methodology of relying upon Host Media Processing (HMP). This particular device integrates an extended implementation of Dialogic’s HMP software with an AdvancedTCA single board computer that includes two Dual-Core Intel Xeon LV 2.0 GHz processors. An Advanced Mezzanine Card (AdvancedMC, or AMC) provides echo cancellation and transcoding offload, which boosts media processing performance.

Alex Mushkin, Product Manager, Dialogic, who focuses on bus and board, fault resilient-type products.

Chris Fullam, Director of Product Management, Service Provider Products, Bill Bryant, Director of Marketing

Dialogic’s Director of Marketing, Bill Bryant, says, “One of the beautiful things about now having the Dialogic media processing and signaling business outside of Intel is that we’re very much open to address where the form factors are going and how they’re being driven by the market. When the business was inside of Intel, ATCA was a huge, monumental push, because Intel was very much driving the ATCA spec. Partly as a result of that, Dialogic Corporation uses ATCA as the latest, greatest, telecom-centric form factor, and it will continue to go to market with ATCA form factor products.”

Bryant continues, “At the same time, however, Dialogic will continue to explore rackmount server opportunities, will continue to work with its embedded base with CompactPCI, and will push forward with PCI Express. You’ll begin to see our PCI Express portfolio come to market in 2007, one wave after the other. We’ll be taking an aggressive look at all of these form factors and switch fabrics, and we’re already at market with products that make sense in terms of what the industry is looking for.”

“As far as IMS is concerned,” says Bryant, “I’m not sure that ATCA is the gold standard form factor for it. I think we’ll see some other things evolve in that space.” Chris Fullam, Dialogic’s Director of Product Management, Service Provider Products, says, “We are excited about ATCA. Our new high-density multimedia platform has gone GA [General Availability]. The initial release is on ATCA. As Bill Bryant said, we also still see a lot of demand for rackmount servers. So, we’re increasing our focus, now that we’re Dialogic and are expanding this product line into the PCI and PCI Express rackmount server area. We still have a healthy business with CompactPCI [cPCI] form factor products, but there’s a couple of inherent issues there, such as the thermals [heat issues], which governs the amount of processing you can load onto a cPCI blade. There are also many issues concerning the standards, especially with respect to high availability, hot swappability, and redundant hosts. We basically went through a lot of pain to get our media boards working in that environment. I think we’ve concluded, with our latest architecture product, is that we’re not going to follow the CompactPCI route. Our focus and initial release is on ATCA and then we’ll follow that up with PCI Express versions of these products.”

Fullam elaborates: “Basically, what we’re doing is this: we follow sort of hybrid approach to delivering a media solution. Traditionally, Dialogic and our competitors were building DSP boards. Lots of DSPs were placed on a plug-in board, and that’s just how we did things. Over the last several years we’ve instead focused on host media processing [HMP], but we realize that HMP is great for doing a lot of things, but not everything. Our new approach is really a hybrid approach, where we do the bulk of the media processing on the Intel architecture — on the Pentium if you will — but we use a custom DSP offload module for transcoding, which is really the MIPS-intensive part of things. I’m referring to translating and driving coders such as G.723, G.729, AMR, EVRC, and so forth. Because it’s essentially an IP-based system, we obviously have IP support on the backplane, but we also offer support for TDM [Time Division Multiplexing] via an optional rear transition module that has a T1/E1 interface on it.”

“We’ve designed a media board in the ATCA form factor that’s quite different from anything produced by our competition, which are still putting DSPs on an ATCA blade,” says Fullam. “What we’ve done instead is to take an off-the-shelf Intel single board computer and we’ve added an AMC [ATCA Mezzanine Card] module that has specialized DSPs on it that do the transcoding. We think our platform is the best of both worlds. We can achieve very high densities today and increase them significantly in the future by following the Intel roadmap. It’s also much more of an off-the-shelf product. As a result, we think we’ll be able to add features and increase densities significantly faster than the competition over the next 18 to 24 months.”

“At this point the board is a 16-span T1/E1,” says Fullam. “You’ll need a fan-out cable or breakout box to make all of the connectors accessible. We keep toying with optical OC-3, OC-12 and various specs, but I think when it comes down to it, most of our customers still prefer the T1 and E1 interfaces. The board also has an Ethernet connection on it, but we can take advantage of third-party switch blades, if a customer wants additional redundancy or needs additional throughput capability.”

Alex Mushkin, Dialogic’s Product Manager, who focuses on bus and board, fault resilient-type products, says, “The board supports Ethernet on the backplane. It doesn’t do 10 Gbps Ethernet, but it does have both base and fabric interface support. For now, we don’t see much need for 10 Gbps, so I’ve done some calculations and we will be able to handle all of the bandwidth that we’ll need going forward, at least for the next few years. We’ll need that capability once we start dealing with high definition video applications.





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