CompactPCI Serial faces hard climb in aerospace and defense in competition with VPX and COM Express

PCI technology-short for Peripheral Component Interconnect-is setting a course to move PCI embedded computing into the modern era of high-speed, switch-fabric serial interconnects, and enable PCI to compete directly with VPX and take a role in aerospace and defense applications, as well as for industrial rugged uses such as railroads, oil and gas, and factory automation.

This new flavor of PCI, called CompactPCI Serial, is not without challenges, however-particularly where aerospace and defense applications are concerned.

First, CompactPCI Serial is a newer and less established computing interconnect technology than its primary competitor, VPX, and has not yet established an industry infrastructure and ecosystem to match VPX.

Second, this technology is establishing itself primarily in Europe, and has yet to see market momentum build in the United States.

Third, CompactPCI Serial is seeing its most promising applications in the industrial rugged market, and not in aerospace and defense.

Still, CompactPCI Serial has not come close to meeting its potential, and leaders of the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) in Wakefield, Mass., plan a big marketing push this year to broaden the technology's installed base. PICMG is the standards organization that oversees CompactPCI Serial.

All this, moreover, ignores what is perhaps the primary market advantage of CompactPCI Serial: The technology represents the most natural migration path for embedded computing users of PCI to move into high-speed switch fabrics, which rapidly are replacing parallel databus architectures in demanding embedded computing applications.

"PCI is still a very popular technology, and it's had some significant mid-life kickers in the past few years," says Joe Pavlat, president and chairman of PICMG. "CompactPCI Serial does most of the things that VPX does, but is much less expensive."

Teledyne LeCroy has unveiled a new CompactPCI Serial Interposer for use with the company's PCIe Protocol Analyzer.
Teledyne LeCroy has unveiled a new CompactPCI Serial Interposer for use with the company's PCIe Protocol Analyzer.

Just as CompactPCI Serial is one of the latest incarnations of embedded PCI that aims at high-performance, switch-fabric serial applications, VPX is one of the most modern versions of the VERSAmodule Eurocard embedded computing standard that is better known as VME.

Historically, aerospace and military embedded systems designers have gravitated toward VME when they seek to design industry-standard architectures. VPX, which is the 3U and 6U incarnation of VME for high-speed, switch-fabric applications, has a few-years head start in the market over CompactPCI Serial, which will place it at a disadvantage to VPX for aerospace and defense applications-particularly in the United States.

"The ecosystem from the CompactPCI Serial board suppliers has not materialized like it has for VPX," explains Shan Morgan, senior vice president of system sales at Elma Electronic Inc. in Fremont, Calif., which specializes in backplanes and enclosures for a wide variety of embedded computing technologies, and supports CompactPCI Serial as well as VPX.

"U.S. applications will depend on momentum in Europe, and building up the ecosystem there," Morgan says. "CompactPCI Serial is now in a race with VPX, and VPX has a fairly strong adoption rate in the defense industry."

Still, CompactPCI Serial may see broader adoption in the future in aerospace and defense applications in which price is critical, such as civil avionics, cockpit control, and non-military control stations for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), says Stephen Cunha, vice president of MEN Micro Inc. in Ambler, Pa.

MEN Micro, which has its world headquarters in Germany, was among the most influential companies that helped formulate the CompactPCI Serial standard.

"MEN Micro does sell into military and defense applications, but it is not a primary focus for us, so we don't see as many opportunities there," Cunha says.

Instead, MEN Micro officials "see a lot of traction in industrial, and particularly rail, such as putting racks on trains inside and outside the train," Cunha explains. "We see opportunities even for some safety- critical applications, such as UAV control stations, Navy shipboard control, and Navy ships in general."

Other potential aerospace and defense applications for CompactPCI Serial include airborne applications such as data and inflight recording, and military ground vehicles like Humvees for reconnaissance and surveillance that might need relatively inexpensive racks of embedded computers.

Widespread future success for CompactPCI Serial in aerospace and defense applications still may be facing additional difficulties as military embedded systems designers move increasingly toward new small-form-factor architectures, such as COM Express.

Not only does CompactPCI Serial complete against VPX in the VME world, but it also competes against COM Express in the PCI world. Time will tell, yet CompactPCI Serial may find its biggest hurdle in being squeezed between VPX and COM Express.


3M Interconnect Solutions Austin, Texas 512-984-1800
Concurrent Technologies Plc Colchester, England +44 1206 752626
EKF Elektronik GmbH Hamm, Germany +49 (0)2381/6890-0
Elma Electronic Inc. Fremont, Calif. 510-656-3400
Eurotech Amaro, Italy +39.0433.485 411
Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc. (X-ES) Middleton, Wis. 608-833-1155
Fastwel Corporation US Brooklyn, N.Y. 718-554-3686
FCI USA LLC Etters, Pa. 800 237 2374
Hartmann Elektronik Stuttgart, Germany +49 0711/1 39 89-0
MEN Micro Ambler, Pa. 215-542-9575
One Stop Systems Escondido, Calif. 877-438-2724
Pentair Technical Products Warwick, R.I. 401-732-3770
Pixus Technologies Inc. Waterloo, Ontario 519-885-5775
Schroff GmbH Straubenhardt, Germany +49 07082 / 794-0
Teledyne LeCroy Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. 845-425-2000
V Rose Microsystems Johnstown, N.Y. 518-762-1288

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April 2015
Volume 26, Issue 4

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