CompactPCI Serial, MicroTCA, and AdvancedTCA: The Numbers Are Even Better Than You Think



New solutions and ruggedized implementations are key to the growth of PICMG-based backplane architectures.

At the Embedded Tech Trends (ETT) event in January of this year, analysts presented data on the size and growth trends of the embedded computing architectures. The data showed some PICMG-based technologies, such as COM Express, growing at a strong clip. The numbers for AdvancedTCA and CompactPCI seemed accurate, but the complete picture was not available. In this article, we’ll discuss the trends as seen by participating companies and from new applications adopting the CompactPCI Serial, MicroTCA, and AdvancedTCA technologies.

Digging Deeper into the Trends

In the presentations at the ETT media event, the data seemed pretty accurate, but the manner in which it was parsed did not provide a complete picture. For example, CompactPCI was expected to decline over time. This is expected as the 20-year-old technology continues to mature. However, we know that CompactPCI Serial is growing rapidly. With the ETT presentation data merged for the two architectures, the very positive CompactPCI Serial trend was hidden.

Interestingly, the numbers for VME and OpenVPX were separated, with VME declining significantly and OpenVPX picking up much of that loss and growing fast. It’s likely that CompactPCI and CompactPCI Serial share very similar trends. Had the numbers not been combined for the two, likely the indication would have been for an overall soft decline in CompactPCI and an eventual surpassing of CompactPCI by the newer CompactPCI Serial architecture.

Figure 1:  Testing of the powerful 191 CFM reverse-impeller blowers in an unfinished 9U CompactPCI Serial enclosure. The fans pull air directly above the card cage and blow the heat 90 degrees out the back in a very efficient configuration.

Figure 1: Testing of the powerful 191 CFM reverse-impeller blowers in an unfinished 9U CompactPCI Serial enclosure. The fans pull air directly above the card cage and blow the heat 90 degrees out the back in a very efficient configuration.

Simpler and More Cost Effective

CompactPCI Serial is growing rapidly, with several design wins in Transportation, Medical, and Industrial markets enjoying the greatest gains. An intriguing question is “Will CompactPCI Serial start to take on OpenVPX in Defense applications?” From a technical point-of-view, the architectures are pretty much apples-to-apples. Both architectures can accept PCIe Gen3 speeds or even 40GbE Ethernet. OpenVPX is an excellent architecture used primarily in defense applications with a huge deployed base and a wealth of ruggedized module and chassis options. cPCI Serial shares the same 3U or 6U form factor, but is simpler and more cost-effective.

With cPCI Serial for Space, there are already several large deployed programs using conduction-cooled, ruggedized modules. The architecture was chosen for the OneWeb program, where it will be deployed in over 900 satellites. If rugged enough for space, then it is rugged enough for Mil/Aero applications. However, the U.S. based prime contractors don’t know cPCI Serial very well. Plus, they may not understand that cPCI Serial uses a new connector and a different technology than CompactPCI (similar to how VME went to a new connector and technology with VPX/OpenVPX).

CPCI Serial is also used in many Industrial, Test & Measurement, and other applications. Figure 1 shows a 6U chassis for cPCI Serial/CompactPCI and other applications with powerful hot swappable reverse-impeller blowers. The blowers are located directly above the card cage for a more efficient front-to-rear airflow path. The fans blow the hot air out the back of the fan and only take 1U of rack space. For most applications, the fans can be set to run at low speeds, preserving MTBF life and lowering acoustic noise.

Open Compute Effect

Also in the January ETT presentation, AdvancedTCA (ATCA) and MicroTCA were combined as “xTCA” in the report. Although ATCA is declining from billion-dollar revenue levels due to a segment of the Communications market moving to concepts such as Open Compute, the architecture is doing well in other areas. This includes Higher Energy Physics and Defense applications. On the Physics side, there has been recent expansion by the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) that will likely lead to more adoption in labs worldwide. Many end-customers in the research/lab and other areas are already looking to 100G systems. With growth in other markets, it would be interesting to see an “ex-Communications” statistics for AdvancedTCA, where the architecture is still likely experiencing growth.

Underestimated?

MicroTCA, which was combined in the overall xTCA number, continues to do very well and may well be the most underestimated technology in the industry. There are several large Mil/Aero, Communications, and High Energy Physics programs using the architecture. Plus, there are many other project wins such as satellites, banking, medical, etc. A couple of years ago, a company that developed almost exclusively MicroTCA (and some) AdvancedTCA products constructed a $25 million state-of-the-art facility in Nevada. How many in the embedded computing industry are expanding like that….and why build such a facility if a lot more business in the xTCA architectures wasn’t expected?

Figure 2:  MicroTCA offers 6 AMC front-loaded AMC plug-in boards in a 1U height and up to 12 AMCs in a midplane approach. The versatile design provides high-performance density and multiple configuration options.

Figure 2: MicroTCA offers 6 AMC front-loaded AMC plug-in boards in a 1U height and up to 12 AMCs in a midplane approach. The versatile design provides high-performance density and multiple configuration options.

A key feature of MicroTCA is the ability to fit several modules in a 1U rackmount enclosure. Figure 2 shows an example 1U development enclosure with versatile options for MCH’s, power modules, and AMC slot sizes. Up to 6 AMCs can fit in the 1U with low-cost power options and a PCIe Gen3 backplane. There are also several rugged implementations of MicroTCA using both conduction-cooled AMCs in hardened clamshells or air-cooled with special latch/module securing provisions.


Justin-2-copyJustin Moll is Vice President, US Market Development Pixus Technologies. Justin also serves as Vice President of Marketing for PICMG.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google
  • TwitThis