New to OpenVPX?



If you have a project on the horizon which demands minimal size, weight, and power, here’s why it will behoove you to get past any awkwardness or unfamiliarity with OpenVPX and put your software to work on a rugged platform.

This short guide is designed to help you get started with OpenVPX, even if your experience only entails taking this VITA technology to the evaluation stage.

Not Necessarily Obvious
Step one is to identify what your processing requirements are. This may seem obvious, but there are several processor architectures you can choose from: Intel®, PowerPC, and Arm. Each will have different core counts and clock frequencies. Also, not all processors can run all operating systems, although for Linux, pretty much anything goes.

If you need maximum performance, the latest Intel® processors (CPU options for 8 or 12 physical cores—and double that with hyperthreading enabled) give the best performance per watt.

Be aware too that if your application is thread-aware and will benefit from a higher core count, it’s not enough to have an OS that is Symmetrical Multi Processing (SMP) capable. You will have to work to parallelize your application code using threads or OpenMP. One option is to utilize Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) type functionality on Intel® AVX512 or AltiVec on PowerPC. With the T Series of NXP PowerPC processors likely to be the last with a 15-year availability. PowerPC will be around for at least another 10 years in full production with the final EOL expected in 2027 giving customers time to migrate over to Intel or Arm.

For determinism and real-time performance, one of the popular real-time operating systems (RTOS) can be tailored to meet your requirements such as 32/64 bit application support, I/O drivers,and Built in Test customized to meet your program requirements, and most will run on multiple architectures: think VxWorks, LynxOS, INTEGRITY, and so on. For avionics safety certification, take a look at the QorIQ PowerPC processors such as are featured on the Abaco Systems SBC314 with its quick start time and certification artifacts.

If you need maximum performance, the latest Intel processors (CPU options for eight or 12 physical cores—and double that with hyperthreading enabled) give the best performance per watt (Figure 1). If you need more processing cycles and greater performance, consider adding a GPU for accelerated graphics or parallel processing using CUDA. The GRA113 can add 630 processing cores to your system when connected to the CPU over PCIe running at Gen3 (providing 16Gbps throughput); there is always a limit to what the CPU can do.

Figure 1: SBC347D single board computer featuring Intel® Xeon® D processor (D1559 12-core/8-core D1548)

Calm in the Face of Interfaces—Even Special Ones
Address your I/O requirements and consider your thermal cooling solution. This will narrow down your options to a set of possible processor boards. As a general rule, the smaller 3U boards can dissipate around 75 watts and the larger 6U boards around 150 watts, depending on the type of thermal solution used (convection or conduction). 6U boards have more I/O and dissipate more power for maximum performance. Conduction-cooled boards now available include those, such as the Abaco Systems SBC347D shown in Figure 1, which use heat pipes to realize an efficient thermal solution and enable faster- and hotter-running boards.

Figure 2: A conduction-cooled SBC314 (choice of T2081/T1042 PowerPC processor) 3U VPX single board computer

For the I/O, check the configurations guides to see what I/O options are available on the board. If the board has all the I/O you need, you simply need to identify the correct rear transition module (RTM) to match the board and provide all the I/O on standard connectors. If you require special interfaces or more of a certain type of I/O, don’t panic—there is a large number of expansion boards available in PMC and XMC format to allow for I/O expansion (much like PCIe cards in a PC). If you don’t see something that will meet your needs, then speak to your local applications engineer for guidance. It may be possible to get a custom option or integrate a new board to meet your I/O requirements. Our applications engineers are a great source of knowledge and will provide detailed technical support, visiting you onsite if needed.

Up and Running
Now’s the time to pull it all together. This can be the most onerous task, depending on the system complexity, but there are off-the-shelf solutions that will allow you to get up and running in the lab quickly. The OpenVPX specification extends to backplanes and chassis, and common configurations can be purchased off-the-shelf. Backplane profiles allow for small and large cluster configurations to meet a variety of needs. From three to 21 slots, the OpenVPX specification has modularity built in, allowing boards from different vendors to be rapidly integrated and deployed.

Figure 3: One example of a system which can address SWaP requirements in a rugged environment is the Abaco 3U VPX SBC329 single board computer based on Xeon® E3 6th Gen Intel® Core™ technology shown here, where all I/O is integrated into the box.

The simplest system may just consist of a single PC-type Intel board with integrated graphics—much like a laptop computer with a single mezzanine site. The system shown in Figure 3, for example, has all the I/O integrated into the box (Abaco Systems 3U VPX SBC239). These systems are quick and easy to put together and can be done with a limited amount of hardware experience (just a few screws). Much like building a PC, it’s plug and play all the way.

Abaco Systems has a number of cards for evaluation that can run on the bench in boxes and can be pre-loaded with the operating system of your choice for short term evaluations.


Ross Newman is a Field Applications Engineer with Abaco Systems, supporting Abaco customers throughout EMEA. He has worked extensively in the defense industry with companies including BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. Newman enjoys travel and robotics, and for the last three years has taught coding to young children at a local school as part of a national network of Code Clubs (codeclub.org.uk).

 

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