Electronic Design

The Triumphs Of Siring A Standard Are Worth The Tribulations

Admit it. You want to standardize something. Perhaps you envision large, untapped frontiers of virgin product territory, totally overlooked by other OEMs. And your products, as you anticipate them, don't fit into any existing standards: the PCIs, the JPEGs, the MPEGs, and the like, which have nourished the birth of so many products. But, you're convinced that your product requires recognition as well as the boost that an industry standard can bring to it. If you want to become a do-it-yourself standard builder, a look at standards past and present can be instructive.

Clearly, standards bring about some real benefits. For instance, they're available at little or no cost. Anyone is allowed to implement them. What's more, agreement is reached by consensus, not decided in just one organization's interest. Plus, a standard nurtures cross fertilization because experts from diverse parts of industry come together, bringing their very best.

Here are some tips based upon the experiences of two who are participating in the development of the InfiniBand standard. This switch architecture standard is now emerging as a fledgling specification, scheduled for introduction this month (see "InfiniBand Promises Greater Speed, Scalability For Servers And Clusters," Electronic Design, Oct. 2, p. 25).

David Heisey, director of advanced technology initiatives at Compaq Computer Corp., Houston, TX, sits on the InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA) steering committee. "Pulling together a trade association is no trivial task," he says. "There's quite a bit of activity with regard to making sure we let everyone know what's happening and getting the members involved. These tasks are crucial to the success of any trade association," Heisey continues.

Mark Tellez, manager of strategic technical marketing at Compaq, is one of two cochairs on the marketing working group. "We were amazed how much work was involved in bringing a large initiative like this together, and then promoting it within the industry. We have been astonished, too, at the response. We're up over 180 companies in less than 11 months," he boasts.

The question of whether to take the high or the low road is certainly key. Even if you have a partnership of companies, each company still must decide whether to work as an individual company, which connotes a highly proprietary implementation, or to go for a smaller slice of the pie. There are sound reasons for taking the latter route.

Given the enormity of development costs and the complexities of technologies, it makes sense to go forth and build products based upon an industry standard. This is the path that InfiniBand is following.

If a standard is to be successful, one thing is paramount: "Much of the specification must be crafted in such a way that the architecture establishes a minimum level of functionality. And within that architecture, there must be room for each of the OEMs to differentiate its own products," Heisey says.

In the IBTA, there are both a steering committee and individual working groups. But it's the responsibility of the work groups to evaluate and make decisions on what's really the best for the architecture. For example, there may be ten companies in a work group, with each one bringing a vote to the table. So, it's likely that sound technology decisions will be made. Once started, standards bodies tend to be self-correcting and policing, due to the diversity of its members.

Summing it all up, Tellez puts it this way: "A standard allows the best of the best to come out of the mixture. It brings about the best solution for what customers will be seeking."

What's your opinion on standards?

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