VITA’s New Leadership Charts Two-year Standards Course
“VITA 4.0,” says Exec Gipper, means more standards, an international footprint and software efficiency tools.
I’ve known Jerry Gipper a long time; in fact, the relationship dates from the days when he ran VME-based marketing for the former Motorola Computer Group. We were later industry competitors, then colleagues working for the same publishing company covering the embedded industry. Today, he has achieved a long-standing career goal of taking over what some consider to be the embedded industry’s most successful open standards organization: VITA.
Jerry calls his brand-new tenure “VITA 4.0,” since he’s only the fourth executive director of this organization that started nearly 35 years ago. As the VMEbus standard turns 30 this year, the list of open-standard specifications and “firsts” attributed to VITA is truly staggering (see Figure 1). Jerry has been associated with VITA for nearly as long as it’s been in existence, yet he seems anxious to break some traditions in the name of progress. On tap? New ways to capitalize on technology for collaboration, more cross-industry cooperation, and rekindling VITA’s international appeal. What will remain the same, says Gipper, is VITA’s tradition of creating the best open embedded standards. Edited excerpts follow.
EECatalog: What are the top three challenges faced by VITA?
Gipper: They actually match up quite well with what our objectives are. First, continue to grow the membership. One of the ways of doing that is keeping the pipeline full for projects for the VITA standards organization [VSO], which is the portion of VITA where the working groups develop standards. Second, I want to continue to work on promoting the organization and the standards that are in place. The biggest promotional challenge is getting a worldwide presence. The final challenge is continuing to promote and advance the causes for the various specifications that are in existence right now.
EECatalog: So it’s not just a matter of advertising or putting more effort into the various marketing sub-groups that are part of VITA?
Gipper: It’s definitely more than that. We’ve had attempts at meeting these challenges for several VSO projects we’ve had in the past; a lot of them are working really well. We’ve increased the visibility really nicely and we’re in pretty good shape in North America but there are some weaknesses in Europe. And there’s not much visibility in Asia at all. There are opportunities—maybe not right away, but definitely over time.
|Figure 1: VITA’s incredible family of open standards spans more than 30 years. (Courtesy: VITA.)|
EECatalog: Has anything like this been done before?
Gipper: VITA originally had VITA Europe and VITA Japan back in the heyday of VMEbus. But now companies have much more of a global footprint and those efforts have fallen away over the years, so there are some opportunities to revive some of that. Perhaps less of this is applied to Europe—we can reach into Europe from where we’re sitting now. But we still need to put more effort into those marketplaces. That may involve attending some shows, meeting with people in the region perhaps by holding some VSO meetings there to increase the participation.
EECatalog: Is there a need for VITA or VITA-like in those areas?
Gipper: Absolutely. A year ago the SGET organization created some quick-track board standards in Europe with a small group of companies. [Editor’s note: the new SMARC standard for ARM-based SoCs hails from SGET.] If they had better understood what the VITA capabilities were to run standards through our process very quickly, those companies probably would’ve been more open to using our process.
EECatalog: What are VITA’s differentiators?
Gipper: In the space we’re in, ANSI accreditation is very important because it gives a higher level of credibility to the work put out by the VSO. We’ve broadened the scope over the last few years to include more than just the basic backplane type of standards and we’re looking at all kinds of mezzanines, small form factors, system management, and reliability.
We also have some unique marketing skills, such as what we’ve done with our marketing alliances that sort of emulate what the IEEE does. I believe we’re the only organization in our space that has these kinds of marketing strategies that focus on specific technologies at key points of their life cycles.
EECatalog: What are the alliances?
Gipper: The two most active are VPX [VITA 46] and FMC [VITA 57]. The reason we set up alliances is because the membership is so diverse with different types of technologies that we need to find marketing strategies, not with the whole group “in tow” but just the members that are most impacted by that [specification]. The other thing that comes into play is VITA’s 501(c)6 status where we have to be careful how we spend the membership’s dues. The alliance concept allows us to collect extra funds that apply to the needs of an individual specification’s interested members and not the whole group.
EECatalog: What are your top three initiatives and goals for Year 1? And then beyond?
Gipper: Top three for the next 12 months are: keep the VSO pipeline full, expand visibility of the members and organization and, of course, we must remain financially viable. Going out into 2015, there are opportunities to expand the visibility internationally, as I said.
EECatalog: VITA’s technical director will also be replaced this year after he retires. What does this mean and how does the timing affect VITA? Seems risky to me.
Gipper: I should also point out that our long-time office administrator [Lollie] is retiring, too. So the whole organization is retiring and I see this as a tremendous opportunity to create “VITA 4.0” because I’ll be the fourth executive director of the organization. It’s an opportunity to upgrade the skills, tools and the whole operation. What I’m trying to do is preserve the institutional memory that all those years of leadership have—there’s somewhere around 75 years of leadership among those three retiring people—and I’ll be implementing some processes and policies that have not existed. Ultimately it’ll be easier to pass the reins from one generation to the next.
EECatalog: Can you comment further on what processes you’re considering implementing?
Gipper: We haven’t made any commitments yet but we’re looking at some tools such as the KAVI collaboration to help us with the standards process. We can also use CRM software such as SalesForce.com to manage the memberships. There are a lot of ways to automate the work that’s been going on: a lot of this has been hand-crafted over the years. The process now works exceptionally well but requires a bit more hand-holding than I’m comfortable with.
You’re right, there is risk any time you have management changes like this. I’m trying to preserve that “institutional memory” by automating and preserving [knowledge] in databases that are easier to manage as we go from one generation to the next.
EECatalog: What industry changes are taking place that will affect VITA and its members?
Gipper: The biggest one you and I have talked about over the years is the way the whole role of board products is constantly being challenged by system-on-chip (SoC) devices, FPGAs and desktop and server technologies. We have to continually refine our focus and our standards work to address the needs of the critical and intelligent embedded computing industry. That means that we can’t always just do backplane technology like we’ve always done before; we need to be looking for new opportunities. The two things we’ve focusing on pretty heavily now are small form factors—there’s been quite a bit of work and some are reaching “trial use” status: VITA 73, 74, and 75—and then the demand for optical is coming. Ray Alderman [former VITA executive director] has been talking about optical backplanes for some time. [Editor’s note: Pentek just released Flexor Model 5973 that may be the first commercial VPX carrier with a VITA 66.4 optical backplane connection.]
EECatalog: Besides the work in small form factors, what not-really-VME efforts are underway at VITA?
Gipper: Some examples are the reliability efforts that are supplementing MIL-HBK-217 lead by the Boeing team [VITA 51]; there is work going on with system management to deal with increasing system complexity, such as repurposing IPMI [from PIGMC’s AdvancedTCA] for OpenVPX.
We are also looking at developing software tools that would make developing VPX systems easier. The FMC checker is XML-based and an example of the kind of tool that helps designers determine if an FMC mezzanine is electrically and functionally compatible with a chosen carrier.
EECatalog: Talk about VITA in relation to other standards organizations such as PICMG.
Gipper: There are a lot of angles to answering your question, but most of our member companies belong to multiple organizations such as VITA, PICMG, RapidIO, PCISIG and so on. There is some opportunity for joint promotional activities to evangelize the industry as a whole, but it hasn’t been worked out as well as I’d hoped. There might be some high-level roadmapping that can be done to streamline some of the efforts. You know, a lot of that is being done already by the members because of the dual memberships they all have. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to tell what standards meeting you’re in by looking around because it’s often the same people.
EECatalog: Anything else?
Gipper: I’m pretty passionate about the opportunity to take VITA to the next level. In fact, 15 or more years ago, VITA was one of the first organizations to the use the Internet to do product directories, but we could do so much more. For example: what about directories, specifications, digital downloads, automated design tools for people using our specifications? It’s almost overwhelming the opportunities for the things we could be doing!
Let me give you an example of a “directory.” It might be a listing of desired product performance specifications that you could then match up with different suppliers, and then evaluate and determine which will work together without calling up the supplier’s application engineer. It’s almost like a system integrator tool. Alternatively, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to easily match up vendors’ datasheets for evaluation purposes?
As I said at the beginning: VITA 4.0 is going to be a little “more of the same,” but with lots of improvements and forward motion.
Chris A. Ciufo is editor-in-chief for embedded content at Extension Media, which includes the EECatalog print and digital publications and website, Embedded Intel® Solutions, and other related blogs and embedded channels. He has 29 years of embedded technology experience, and has degrees in electrical engineering, and in materials science, emphasizing solid state physics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.