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Feature Article
September 2004


The Rise of Open Systems in Network Management and Design (continued)

BY STEPHEN B. JOHNSON

IPMI-based system management greatly simplifies system design by enabling TEMs to monitor, test, and diagnose systems at the blade level during the development phase. The standard management interface gives TEMs the option of purchasing management software off the shelf. This combination reduces overall development time, which translates into lower equipment costs and CAPEX for service providers.

The most significant benefits of standardized system management become evident once the system is deployed. From an availability standpoint, IPMI enables technicians and operators to isolate problems faster with a finer degree of granularity, which reduces mean time to replacement (MTTR) and stocking costs. ATCA and cPSB systems equipped with IPMI system management makes it possible for service providers to identify and correct faults, reboot, and/or replace components at the board level. AMC (Advanced Mezzanine Card), an emerging telecom standard for mezzanine cards, provides an even higher level of granularity, employing an IPMI interface that makes it possible to isolate/correct faults, reboot and replace components at the module level.

IPMI’s standard management framework also reduces OPEX by simplifying integration and maintenance. Because IPMI can be used throughout the system, service providers do not have to deploy, integrate, and master multiple custom management frameworks. The familiarity and consistency of the IPMI framework also simplifies training and makes it possible for service providers to outsource the management function on a competitive basis (not tied solely to the equipment provider).

IPMI’s standard management framework also simplifies upgrades and reduces the OPEX associated with adding new services. Unlike custom management solutions, IPMI enables service providers to add new services by purchasing off-the-shelf components that plug directly into the existing IPMI framework. In this scenario, the only operational cost associated with adding new services or scaling existing one is the cost of powering for the new blade.

IPMI CHASSIS MANAGEMENT EVOLVES
Both CompactPCI (PICMG 2.9) and ATCA (PICMG 3.0) system management utilize IPMI. But chassis management has evolved substantially under PICMG 3.0, expanding the PICMG system management interface and shoring up many places where the PICMG 2.9 specification was open for misinterpretation. PICMG 3.0 incorporates many additional IPMI commands for ATCA-specific functions such as identifying and enabling blade fabric connections, electronic keying, and hot swap. To increase reliability and availability, PICMG 3.0 also specifies the use of two IPMBs for backplanes (where PICMG 2.9 has a single IPMB), which can be distributed to each blade in either a bussed or radial fashion. PICMG 3.0 blades are also equipped with the two IPMBs.

To ensure better compatibility between implementers, PICMG 3.0 provides more explicit IPMI messaging, specifying operations with a higher degree of granularity. ATCA hot swap, for example, is defined under PICMG 3.0 as an explicit multi-state sequence utilizing IPMI. CompactPCI hot swap, by contrast, is part of a separate non-IPMI specification (PICMG 2.1), utilizing dedicated pins that allow multiple implementations.

PICMG 3.0’s finer granularity, though seemingly more complicated, actually simplifies system integration, enhancing interoperability between blades and chassis management systems, and making it easier for integrators to purchase boards that are compatible with the desired chassis manager and system in general. This consolidation of RASM functions like hot swap onto IPMB, together with PICMG 3.0’s finer granularity and increased specificity, facilitates a centralized, consistent approach to system management that ultimately simplifies system integration.

Two of ATCA’s most powerful features, which require additional IPMI messages, are its support for negotiated power management and electronic keying (E-Keying). ATCA (PICMG 3.0) enables blades to negotiate with the chassis management for power allocation prior to powering on, and then renegotiate that allocation while active. This capability helps maximize availability in highly populated racks with fixed power budgets. In such systems, active power negotiation enables the chassis management to manage power to non-essential boards and ensure optimal operation for the most important boards when total power usage threatens the available budget. E-Keying, by contrast, helps prevent damage to boards, prevent mis-operation, and verify fabric compatibility. This facilitates the use of fabric-agnostic backplanes that can be manufactured in higher volume at a reduced cost.

Suppliers of open architecture products and subsystems have been trying for more than two decades to penetrate lucrative high-availability applications like telecom. But a lack of high-availability features such as an effective hot swap, failover support, and integrated system management has made many TEMs reluctant to embrace commercial solutions. The crystallization of standard system management interfaces and frameworks for rugged, high-performance, hot-swappable platforms like cPSB and ATCA marks a significant step forward for suppliers and customers targeting high-availability applications. It also provides the CAPEX and OPEX savings needed to entice service providers, whose purchasing decisions ultimately drive the equipment market.

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Steven B. Johnson is a senior field application engineer with Artesyn Communication Products. For more information, please visit the company online at www.artesyncp.com.

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