Common standards, 3U VPX, open architecture initiatives flavor ETT conference

Every month the McHale Report will host an online roundtable with experts from the defense electronics industry – from major prime contractors to defense component suppliers. Each roundtable will explore topics important to the military embedded electronics market. This month we discuss the use of board-level by the military and trends emerging from the conference held last week in New Orleans.

This month’s panelists are: Mrinal Iyengar, Vice President, Product Management, Abaco Systems; Doug Patterson, Vice President, Military & Aerospace Business Sector, Aitech Defense Systems; and Yan Banducci, Director of Marketing ADLINK Technology.

MCHALE REPORT: What trends did you see emerging at Embedded Tech Trends in New Orleans this month? What was the buzz?

IYENGAR: Historically, board level products held the largest portion of overall revenue, while systems played a smaller role. Going forward, the opposite seems to true—systems (especially and small form factor) will be where the largest source of revenue is from.

There is a trend of wanting more for less. This is what dominated : more functionality, more performance plus more - but at a lower price and with less room for maneuver within ever more prescriptive standards. However, the most important ‘more’ was more opportunity for growth, with many new unmanned vehicles in the offing and growth forecast in the more established radar and C4ISR application spaces.

PATTERSON: Like several ETT conferences over the past several years, the “buzz” continues to be about -based high-performance embedded computing (HPEC) and stand-alone GPGPU subsystems, high speed copper backplanes, modular fiber optic interconnects, and the constituent high speed, board-level components composing those systems. If someone were watching only ETT, it would be easy to conclude that smaller, slower horsepower data and process control systems had all but disappeared from the world, but in reality, these slower speed data and process control systems – regardless of market sector (defense, transportation, civil air, etc.) – represents the vast bulk of the embedded market.

BANDUCCI: Many of the presentations seemed to be clustered around the theme of data management. The proliferation of sensors and the accompanying sensor data is continuing to drive the industry to produce systems that are capable of collecting, storing, analyzing, and sharing data. This exponential increase in data drives everything from processor design, connector specifications, thermal management, and data extraction. It is clear that that the mil/aero market will increasingly require companies to provide not only robust electronics hardware, but also robust end-to-end data management solutions.

MCHALE REPORT: What open standards from , , and other standards bodies do you see making the biggest impact in military system designs and why?

IYENGAR: VITA standards for VPX continue to dominate thinking in the defense and aerospace arena for major new program starts, with VME still being a major player for upgrades and smaller programs. VITA’s small form factor initiatives still seem to be struggling to gain momentum, with vendors still looking at more proprietary solutions for absolutely optimized size, weight, and power (SWaP). OpenVPX looks to be the mainstay and will be quite relevant for many years to come.

PATTERSON: VITA certainly has the largest active body of standards development and the support by vendors, integrators and end- users for the embedded computing markets thus have the biggest impact.

BANDUCCI: We continue to see strong demand for the VITA standard small form factor (SFF) and Computer On Module (COM) single board computers. The standards based modular approach facilitates technology insertions for mature platforms, leveraging COTS products to enable lower system level costs while still upgrading system capabilities.

MCHALE REPORT: Through efforts such as HOST, SOSA and FACE, the government is adopting an open architecture approach to systems design in areas such as avionics and sensor systems. What military applications have yet to embrace open architectures and common standards and why?

IYENGAR: The demand for certifiable COTS is increasing and is here to stay. There is still reluctance amongst some integrators used to dealing with certification applications to relinquish their grip on in-house designs, despite the obvious business advantages of using a trusted COTS vendor to supply standardized pieces of the jigsaw. So, although some of the more enlightened program managers are embracing the cost and schedule advantages of off-the-shelf solutions, they continue to battle with NIH (not invented here) syndrome in their own engineering departments. HOST seems to be gaining traction and its use of OpenVPX will make it an easier adoption.

PATTERSON: These government-lead standards initiatives have lurched and lagged over several decades with moderate to lackluster success and impact on the commercially-driven, embedded computing industry in general. It remains to be seen if the recent insurgence of these government-driven standards may take root or wane again as program funding is re-directed to new, less technology-spurred initiatives.

What is different now is the government’s desire to encompass existing, best-practice, commercially viable and successful standards, but these standards are ever-changing and adapting to newer hardware technologies, which when finally adapted and adopted by the interested government programs, the base technology has changed out from under the standards and moved to the next performance plateau. So for me, the jury remains out just yet, we’ll see what happens over the next four years.