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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 )

MicroTCA Flies Solo

Motorola ( has been announcing orders in excess of $1 million lately for its MicroTCA system products. Companies are now integrating Motorola’s MicroTCA core communications server technology into development systems to serve markets such as telecom access, military communications and diagnostic equipment for the healthcare industry.

Motorola’s John Fryer, Director of Advanced Technology Marketing for Embedded Communications Computing, says, “In terms of AdvancedTCA, we’ve clearly reached the point now where its mass adoption amongst the telecom equipment manufacturers [TEMs] is a ‘done deal’. They’ve all got strategies based on ATCA hardware. There are a few exceptions, of course, such as Ericsson on the wireless side and probably Cisco on the wireline side. But almost everybody else is doing something in and around ATCA. These vendors will tell you that that they’re looking for pre-integrated platforms, such as communications servers.”

“We at Motorola have been focused on delivering our communications servers into the marketplace,” says Fryer. “We have customers such as Nortel, Alcatel and so on. One thing we’ve come to learn is that, as embedded industry, we’ve all been accustomed to delivering blades or pieces of a solution, perhaps with some integration involving CompactPCI and PICMG 2.16-type of systems. Such systems are based on standards and work with each other okay. But it’s a big step to go from having everything interwork and interoperate nicely to delivering that capability on a ‘five nines’ [99.999% uptime] platform. This is where the equipment manufacturers have always seen themselves delivering value into the industry. We’re now getting past that point of acceptance where people say, ‘Yes, the embedded computing industry can deliver pre-integrated platforms.’ I think you’ll see a lot more uptake and more of a focus on that kind of capability in 2007.”

“What goes along with this is the layering of high availability operating environments based on the Service Availability Forum [SA Forum] standards,” says Fryer. “That’s now getting a lot more interest in the marketplace. Implementations are appearing in the market, people are starting to do things with those standards, so there will be many more deployments of equipment with SA Forum-compliant middleware in 2007, which means they’ll be a lot more reliable and suitable for high-end mission critical applications, such as what you encounter in the telecom world. Motorola has a major hand in that area.”

“Here at Motorola we really don’t see a lot of new activity around CompactPCI or PICMG 2.16 these days,” says Fryer. “We have existing product lines around that and they continue to do very well. But we can see several years down the road that they will come to an end as people switch over to newer technologies such as AdvancedTCA.”

“CompactPCI and PICMG 2.16 are both still used at the enterprise level, but even here interest is switching over to MicroTCA, since the boards are based on the same mezzanine technology used in AdvancedTCA,” says Fryer. “The MicroTCA market is beginning to form. Indeed, we’re seeing tremendous interest in MicroTCA from a very wide variety of segments. Certainly the enterprise segment is interested in MicroTCA for IVR systems, fax servers, and so forth, and there’s huge interest from defense, aerospace and the medical areas. There’s also a lot of interest from the pure telecom side, although there’s an inclination in that industry to give the hardware more of a telecom ‘twist’ which raises an issue around the industry as to whether doing that will burden the technology with additional, perhaps unnecessary costs, which could also be detrimental to MicroTCA’s uptake. There will probably be a bit of a ‘shake-out’ in terms of opinions as to exactly where MicroTCA is headed and what really are the well-defined segments it serves. Even so, there’s still a great deal of interest in MicroTCA, as we experienced at the recent AdvancedTCA summit.”

“The initial promise of MicroTCA was driven by the fact that you could take an AMC [Advanced Mezzanine Card] that was designed for AdvancedTCA and plug it and its brethren into their own shelf,” says Fryer. “One of the questions out there at the moment — and I don’t think it has fully been answered — is that while that may be a great idea, it may not necessarily be the way things ultimately unfold and it may be necessary to make some form factor changes as a result of that. It’s pretty clear to us that the sales volumes around MicroTCA will be driven purely by MicroTCA applications, not because of their compliance with AMCs and AdvancedTCA, which for a whole variety of reasons, will probably be a relatively small part of the AdvancedTCA market. It will instead be the ‘purer’ MicroTCA market that will really dictate what happens to the MicroTCA form factor. It is possible that we will see some kind of enhancement change or modification in that area over time. But there again, we must be careful to point out that, the one thing that we need to avoid with a new technology, particularly like MicroTCA, is fragmentation in the marketplace. Success for these kinds of technologies rests on large-scale volume deployment to get the price points in line with what some of the customer industries are looking for.”

“We at Motorola have very strong product plans based around MicroTCA for 2007 and beyond,” says Fryer. “We’ve got proof-of-concept systems that we have and you’ll start to see appear in the marketplace, and in reasonable volumes — we’re not talking about one or two at a time, but tens or hundreds of devices that will be deployed in the marketplace in the next few months. So we’re very much ‘on the launch pad’ in particular area.”

“Products will start to appear from us in the middle of 2007, initially dealing with what we call ‘simplex applications’ or non-redundant types of applications. We’ll follow that with platforms that lean more toward ‘five nines’ availability as we sort out what the hard telecom requirements are for next-gen networks.”


Three for the Road

It appears that AdvancedTCA (ATCA), MicroTCA and CompactPCI (cPCI) vendors will each carve out a niche for themselves, at least in the short term. MicroTCA technology may surprise all of us as it takes on a life of its own, completely independent of the AMC cards that inspired its creation.

Richard Grigonis is the Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.





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