PICMG's xTCA meets VME and VPX head-on

3Editor's note: Just when we think things might be settling down to a predictable level within VME's relatively stable ecosystem, our recent interview with Mark Overgaard, Pigeon Point Systems' founder and president, reveals otherwise. From the heretofore telecommunications-focused company's recent acquisition by Actel to its participation in OpenVPX, things are anything but predictable. Edited excerpts follow.

VME: Actel recently acquired Pigeon Point Systems. What did they see in your company?

OVERGAARD: Pigeon Point Systems (PPS) was already using Actel's Fusion family as a base for our management solutions before the acquisition. Fusion's low power, live-at-power-up, and inherent reliability attributes make it a good fit for management controllers.

Since we additionally provide platform management products for 's widely used Telecommunications Computing Architecture (or , to include both and ), acquiring PPS brought Actel more expertise in platform management and customer relationships within the telecommunications sector.

VME: Tell us about "management," as you define it.

OVERGAARD: Pigeon Point focuses on the layer of management closest to the hardware platform (which includes, for instance, a chassis and the plug-in modules that populate its slots). We call this layer "hardware platform management"; it provides a foundation for upper management layers. Hardware platform management includes functions such as inventory data collection and thermal management.

VME: How does this apply to VPX?

OVERGAARD: To maximize the benefits of COTS products in VPX applications, the VPX standards family needs to define platform management interfaces and functionality. This is needed so that system integrators can combine platform elements for their applications as quickly and efficiently as possible, while implementing the level of such management that is suitable for those applications.

We see two levels of platform management. First, there is local management at the module level that monitors sensors on the module and stores information about the module, such as inventory data. Second, there is chassis-level management that collects information from the modules in the chassis and represents the chassis to upper-level management.

VME: What are the challenges in mission-critical systems, particularly those based on VPX?

OVERGAARD: One key challenge for hardware platform management in mission-critical systems is providing the right level of infrastructure services to fit the needs of the application. This is important because different applications and different system integrators might have very different views on how management should be partitioned between the application layers and underlying infrastructure layers. For example, some integrators consider most management functionality to be the responsibility of the application layer and prefer to embed that functionality there. We favor a tiered approach to VPX standards in this area so that module and chassis suppliers, as well as their customers, can choose the appropriate tier level for the management infrastructure layer while still gaining the interoperability and cost efficiencies that result from standardization.

For instance, there are likely 3U VPX modules that need only a minimal local management controller but must interoperate reliably with modules that have higher-tier (more sophisticated) local management. Actel's Protocol Design Services (PDS) group has proposed, within the .11 working group, an approach to such minimal local controllers based on programmable logic devices such as flash-based .

VME: What are the parallels between the traditional PICMG systems and VME-based aerospace and defense systems?

OVERGAARD: Both VPX and xTCA define open modular platform architectures in which numerous companies participate (as developers, integrators, or both) and which depend on interoperability for the success of that ecosystem and the integrated systems it produces.

xTCA systems and the boards that populate them implement a rich and mandatory hardware platform management layer. The management layer of VPX architecture can benefit by leveraging the xTCA facilities wherever it makes sense for VPX – to take advantage of the significant investment that has already been made in the xTCA facilities. However, some aspects of xTCA platform management might not be needed in VPX, such as the extensive provisions for hot swapping boards.

VME: You're a member of . Why?

OVERGAARD: The primary work of developing the VPX hardware platform management framework is occurring within VITA, and we're actively participating in that work as members of VITA. But you have to remember that the system-level architecture work OpenVPX is doing is an important complement to the work in VITA on a wide range of VITA 46 dot specifications. One of these is VITA 46.11, which covers hardware platform management within VPX. So we are members of OpenVPX to participate in the development of that system-level architecture.

Mark Overgaard is founder and president of Pigeon Point Systems (PPS), now an Actel company. Mark is a leader on several PICMG technical subcommittees and also actively participates in defining VPX platform management. Prior to founding PPS in 1997, Mark was VP, Engineering at Lynx Real-Time Systems and Telesoft. He can be contacted at mark@pigeonpoint.com.

Pigeon Point Systems 831-438-1565 www.pigeonpoint.com