Is VME Dead?



VMEBus has been around for decades. Although VME is not growing exponentially, it’s holding ground. Who is still buying VME, and why?

One oft-heard question from customers in the market, in general: “Is VME dead?” The VME bus has been around for decades, and VPX can accommodate new technology that delivers blazing fast signals. However, VME, although not growing exponentially, still achieves a steady flow of design wins.

According to Doug Patterson, Vice President of Global Marketing at Aitech, “We’re still introducing new VME-related products to replace older, obsolete ones and enhancing products because customers are asking for that. They’ve made a huge investment in VME and Intel or PowerPC processors and would like to stay with VME, if possible. Technology and component obsolescence are making it harder for them.”

Figure 2: Douglas Patterson is Vice President of Global Marketing for Aitech Rugged Group and its US-based subsidiary, Aitech Defense Systems, Inc.

Who still designs with VME?

VME is still incorporated into products produced by Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, L3 Communications, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and many others. Many companies are adopting some of the newer embedded technologies for industrial applications. However, the VME market is expanding with an upturn over the past couple of years.

VME continues to be an excellent option for users that do not need high-frequency signals or digital streams of Gigabits per second (Gbps) over the backplane. VME can offer lower cost, reliable, and redundant processing systems using the VMEBus standard, mechanical standards, and standard conduction cooled boards, thus providing a clear-cut path for interoperability and long-term maintenance. Building upon standardized products, companies can keep and maintain systems with the least amount of pain possible while leveraging talent to other areas.

Aitech has continued to introduce new products benefitting from the VME Bus, recently introducing the C114, a next-generation PowerPC product. Emil Kheyfets, Director of Military and Aerospace Products at Aitech states, “It’s a natural upgrade for customers who are using some of our older single board computers and want to upgrade to higher performance, lower power SBC, and as an added benefit, perform a technology refresh. We maintain backplane compatibility for them, so they can drop in the next generation board, make a minor change to their high-level application software – usually to drivers only – and recompile. Then they can move forward with confidence, concentrating on other challenges.”

Figure 1:The C114 is one of Aitech’s latest generation VME PowerPC SBCs, based on NXP’s new T1/T2 Series QorIQ System-on-Chip (SoC) multi-core processors, with numerous integrated bus, memory, and I/O controllers. (Image: Aitech)

Figure 3: Emil Kheyfets is Director of Military and Aerospace Product Line for Aitech Defense Systems, Inc.

Is VME Winning New Designs?

Of the various bus structures serving defense, aerospace, and space as well as commercial and industrial applications, 6U VMEbus, especially, remains a valuable, reliable and more cost-effective solution for multiple applications. For many companies still implementing VME, the hardest question related to the backplane can be “How many slots do I need?” VPX can meet higher technology requirements that reach past VME. However, VPX is a point-to-point system that can quickly get very complicated and require that every backplane is custom. In many cases, still today, VMEbus is the right answer. The standardization industry has been moving forward, bringing the user the ability to maintain and upgrade their systems without really having to worry about obsolescence. They can always upgrade to the next generation, partnering with the right company that offers technology upgrades and then move forward with system designs right through production. Many production programs are maintaining VME in the industry, whereas is VPX is still growing.

VPX Holds Its Own
New technologies, like artificial intelligence, boost the ability to enhance security, but also exponentially increase the amount of high-speed data available. VPX, although more complicated in many ways, is more capable than VME to handle the demands of higher data processing requirements. For example, a perfect application for VPX incorporating high-speed copper, or even optical high-speed interconnects for blazing fast throughput, might be a security system tapping multiple High Definition (HD) cameras pumping enormous amounts of data into a system for real-time processing. This provides better intelligence and more timely information to those with critical security requirements.

In October 2000, a U.S. Navy destroyer refueling in Yemen’s Aden harbor was the target of a suicide bombing attack, killing 17 and injuring 39 sailors on board. Going back in time, what if the USS Cole had been equipped with multiple security cameras surrounding the ship?

Artificial intelligence-based security, even in today’s embryonic stages, would have detected an incoming object and potentially saved the lives of those American sailors. Modern computer vision could have identified a suspicious object long before it arrived alongside the USS Cole. Image processing and applying artificial intelligence to identify objects are applications that homeland security will increasingly use to detect a potential threat long before it gets within striking distance.

VME’s Viability in the Future

VME is, indeed, not dead, especially for applications where high frequencies and massive amounts of data are not required. For example, control systems running closed feedback loops at 5 to 100 Hz may need the ruggedness, redundancy, and other benefits provided by the VMEbus ecosystem. On the other hand, technology is evolving to exceed the capability of the human brain. Deep learning networks exceed human vision in terms of accurately interpreting what is seen, for example.

Still, VME may not be going anywhere anytime soon, since there are thousands of deployed systems in existence and new VME designs born. It offers a less expensive way to upgrade, rather than managing completely different systems; another reason why new designs can still anchor on VME. Yes, so-called “sexy” new technologies inspire mankind to create new applications that reach beyond what was previously thought possible. However, not all technologies need to utilize massive amounts of data at warp speed, and for the future of VME, this is just fine.


Lynnette Reese is Editor-in-Chief, Embedded Intel Solutions and Embedded Systems Engineering, and has been working in various roles as an electrical engineer for over two decades. She is interested in open source software and hardware, the maker movement, and in increasing the number of women working in STEM so she has a greater chance of talking about something other than football at the water cooler.

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