Money Men Jump On Board

Paul Whytock reports from the Bus & Board Conference, Long Beach.

Wall Street has woken up to the opportunities

offered by the embedded electronics market, and it likes what it sees. It likes the fact that capital markets are open and prepared to provide low-cost finance to support research, design, and company expansion.

It's also impressed by the embedded sectors growth performance of 8% between 2002-2004. But I suspect the really big incentive and nerve-calming encouragement for the money men is what I call the "customer reality factor." Unlike a few years ago after the dotcom/telecom collapse, nowadays there are real customers with real projects—and with real money funding them. So continued growth in the embedded markets supported by the VME standard was a strong underlying theme at the Bus&Board Conference, hosted by VITA (VMEbus International Trade Association) and organised by the indefatigable Ray Alderman, executive director of VITA.

Jeff Berson, executive director at CIBC World Markets, noted that the broadly diversified character of embedded markets boosted the sector to outperform the overall market in 2004. Focusing on company exhibits at the conference, Berson said that the stability of embedded markets not only ensured the sector's growth, but also opened the door for mergers and acquisitions. Echoing the growth theme, Jim Feldhan, president and CEO of Semico Research, acknowledged that so-called bread-and-butter markets, such as mobile phones and computers, will continue to grow. But he emphasised that market growth would be driven by embedded products for personal media devices and automotive electronics.

According to Electronic Trend Publications, a San Jose, California-based market research firm, the 2003 worldwide market for embedded markets was approximately $3.2 billion and VMEbus technologies accounted for 26% of the total. Jerry Gipper, VITA marketing spokesman, said: "VME-based products continue to demonstrate their durability, with broad adoption of the VME standard across all markets. Between 2003 and 2008, market adoption of the VMEbus technologies will grow at over 6%, with new enhancements to the standards adding over 100% CAGR in the same time frame, according to Electronic Trend Publications."

"In embedded applications, VME is the most used open standard in the world, with no other standard coming close," stated Ray Alderman, executive director of VITA. "Open standards bring sanity to an otherwise chaotic array of product offerings. While companies with proprietary offerings must constantly grapple with obsolescence, the risks associated with new product development, and the high costs of going it alone, open standards provide a strategic roadmap that allows adopters to improve and innovate their product offerings in a seamless methodology and with greatly reduced risk."

In addition to the conference sessions, companies supporting the event had plenty to say about new technology they were bringing to market.

Rugged SBC
Concurrent Technologies announced a ruggedised, conduction-cooled VME single-board computer supporting dual PMC sites and using Intel's Pentium M processor. The VP 315/022-RC supports a Pentium M (with 1Mbyte L2 cache) operating at 1.2GHz. Utilising the Intel 855GME chipset, the board supports 1Gbyte of soldered 266MHz DDR ECC DRAM. And with two 66MHz PMC sites, connected via the Intel 6300ESB I/O Controller Hub, this single-slot board includes extensive rear I/O functionality in addition to VITA 31.1 Gigabit Ethernet via the VME64x backplane.

A deliberate design element of the board means it is capable of handling harsh applications within the defence, industrial control, and transportation markets. A rugged air-cooled version and a range of commercial/extended temperature versions are also available, including a choice of operating-system board support packages.

PLX Technology used the event to promote its new PEX bridging and switching devices, which it says provides system and board manufacturers with a complementary set of essential interconnect building blocks.

These will sample in Q3, and PLX customers already are in development with their products using the PEX line. This new family is among the first to announce interconnect silicon based on the architecture. The PEX 8114 PCI Express-to-PCI/PCI-X bridge is capable of forward, reverse, and non-transparent bridging, and features 1GB/s throughput − all in a 17x17mm BGA package and drawing less than 2W of power. The PEX line also includes two new PCI Express switching devices: the PEX 8516 and PEX 8532.

Motorola announced its commitment to providing customers with a PCI Express-based VMEbus Switched Serial (VXS) interconnect. "Selecting PCI Express as our VXS (VITA 41.4) implementation is an important extension of the application of PCI Express," explained Wendy Vittori, corporate vice president and general manager of Motorola's Embedded Communications Computing Group.

"Intel is a strong supporter of standard interconnects which take full advantage of the volumes of the PC and server market segments to offer performance, value, and reuse," added Anthony Ambrose, general manager of platform programs, Intel Communications Infrastructure Group. "Motorola is demonstrating leadership in the embedded communications computing market by initiating the next-generation VME backplane architecture, based upon PCI Express technology."

Middleware technologies
Motorola is also working with third parties to provide middleware technologies for network-centric applications. Middleware is important for network-centric applications such as the U.S. Navy Open Architecture initiative, the U.S. Army Future Combat Systems program, and a variety of industrial applications that require distributed processing.

Curtiss-Wright Controls' Embedded Computing division (CWCEC) introduced an innovative COTS-based rugged computing system. Packaged in a battle-ready, rugged, half-short five-slot Air Transport Rack (ATR) chassis, the 3U CompactPCI-based Modular Tactical Computer (MTC) represents a step forward in the incorporation of mission-critical computing into military platforms, says the company. This rugged computer system is designed to withstand the harsh environments of military missions while providing users with the latest advances in reliability, accuracy, and speed. MTC offers defence and aerospace system integrators a COTS tactical subsystem that can be ordered off-the-shelf fully configured for immediate integration into a production application. Alternately, the MTC can be customised with a variety of functional modules, such as mission computing, control applications, fire control systems or network-centric computing. Factory-configured with standard COTS boards and subassemblies based on open architecture technology, MTC brings prime systems integrators reduced integration time, fewer risks, and lower development costs.

"By leveraging the technologies available from the many companies that have become Curtiss-Wright Embedded Computing, we can seamlessly enmesh a wide variety of off-the-shelf components to create this innovative new computing platform," said Lynn Patterson, vice president and general manager of Modular Solutions, CWCEC.

COM Express Modules
PFU, a Fujitsu group company and PFU Systems Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of PFU Ltd., demonstrated first samples of PFU's 4th-generation Plug-N-Run modules, the Plug-N-Run G4. These modules are based on the COM Express standard, a new and open PICMG industry standard for PCI Express Computer-on-Modules. With this announcement, PFU feels it is demonstrating its commitment to the COM market in general and to the COM Express standard in particular. PFU is an original sponsor of the COM Express PICMG standard.

VMETRO has begun delivery of the Phoenix VPF1, a quad signal processing card for VME-based systems supporting the VITA-41/VXS standard. The VPF1, part of the Phoenix family of VXS products, is a high-performance processing engine that comes in standard and rugged configurations. Unlike more traditional solutions, the VPF1 provides both dual independent PowerPC processors and dual independent Virtex-II Pro FPGAs for processing, as well as two 4x high-speed serial links for VITA 41 VXS (VMEBus Switched Serial) standard fabric connectivity. This combination of processors, FPGAs, and communications fabric provides scalable high-density processing and efficient data communications in one card.

The VXS Switched Serial Standard is a new initiative designed to advance VME technology while continuing to support legacy VME/VME64 products. The principal capability offered by VXS is the ability to use switched fabrics across the backplane, thus providing a significant increase in board-to-board transfer performance. It can also handle multiple, simultaneous, high-bandwidth data streams completely independent of the conventional VME backplane. This is of particular importance, because it allows applications to effectively use processing resources distributed across multiple boards without the need for proprietary hardware.

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