Electronic Design

Forecasting The Embedded Merchant Board Market

New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra, faced with the loss of his pitching staff and the uncertainty of his lineup, uttered the famous line: "The future ain't what it used to be." The merchant computer board industry faces a similar uncertainty.

Of what consequence is it to inform the industry that VME shipments totaled $1 billion in 2002 and that CompactPCI (cPCI) shipments were under $150 million? Or, that PC 104 shipments equalled less than $50 million? Even if we were to acknowledge that cPCI boards had become commodity and custom products, most bundled in systems-integratable packages containing middleware, would such information be important for forecasting future board markets? VME will certainly continue to benefit from military COTS for the foreseeable future, while offering real-time solutions for network management, billing, and real-time solutions to industrial control applications.

Telecom-centric cPCI, with its vendors having failed to support across-the-board efforts for industrial automation applications, as it had done for telecom, will continue to search for an established marketplace from which to grow.

The future for PC104/104+ is less rosy. The emergence and rapid expansion of embedded FPGAs, along with the radical changes that PCI Express poses for x86 applications, will mitigate against PC104 expansion in the future.

Telecom is undergoing a transformation into a communications and connectivity marketplace. This market is characterized by a high-bandwidth environment that can segment into many channels of high-speed communications, enabling a new era of device connectivity. Already the battle for the infrastructure is enjoined by J2EE and .Net, which will serve as the backbone for handheld devices carried by mobile users to access enterprise platforms, like banking, CRM, and order entry.

Traditional telecom infrastructures, such as SS7 packet switching and Sonet, are being challenged by wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), which will significantly reduce operational costs and provide enormous bandwidth. In addition, the enormous growth of the Internet and WAN and LAN usage has created the need for new high-bandwidth solutions. The current telecom infrastructure is voice-based, whereas there are more data than voice bits transmitted. There is a better way, and that's where the markets for embedded boards will migrate.

Carriers are challenged with alternative communication infrastructures. Internet Business Exchanges have centralized enterprise and business access to, and consolidation around, Internet communications in a highly secure environment. Cable and satellite offerings are very competitive with the carriers, which must either adapt and consolidate or collapse.

Board manufacturers have learned that we exist in a software-driven rather than a hardware-driven environment. The future of the embedded merchant board industry lies in addressing the new and rapidly expanding world defined by photons rather than electrons, abundant bandwidth, and unique software solutions. Such professional organizations as VITA and PICMG currently address these issues. The future ain't what it used to be.

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