VITA maps out future path for VMEbus technology

Oct. 1, 2005
Ray Alderman has been executive director of the VME International Trade Association (VITA) in Scottsdale, Ariz., since 1996. He was previously chief executive officer of PEP Modular Computers and was previously technical director of VITA.

Ray Alderman has been executive director of the VME International Trade Association (VITA) in Scottsdale, Ariz., since 1996. He was previously chief executive officer of PEP Modular Computers and was previously technical director of VITA. Alderman was also a founder and partner at Matrix Corp.-now Thales Computers. VITA is an incorporated, nonprofit organization of vendors and users having a common market interest in real-time, modular embedded computing systems. Founded in 1984, VITA champions open-system architectures as opposed to proprietary system architectures. The functions performed by VITA are technical, promotional, and user related, and are aimed at increasing the total market size, providing vendors additional market exposure, and providing users with technical information. Today, VITA’s mission includes not only promoting VMEbus, but also promoting the very concept of open technology as embodied in the many standards currently under development within the VITA Standards Organization.

Q. What is the current status of the VME Renaissance?

A. Excellent. There is real live VITA 41 and VXS technology out there and it is ready for ANSI certification. It enables VMEbus architectures to use switched fabrics with training wheels on. VITA 41 and VXS are very software friendly where fabrics are not yet. The technology enables extensive debugging that can’t be done with fabrics.

There are millions of lines of software code that still have to be written for fabrics. Fabrics are 90 percent software.

VITA 41 is also ideal for streaming I/O applications where huge computing architectures are not needed.

Q. Has it extended the life of VME technology as promised?

A. Yes, it has provided a way for traditional conduction- and convection-cooled VME to work with switched fabrics, which brings greater performance through larger bandwidth and faster interconnects.

Q. What does Vita 46 bring to the table for military embedded vendors?

A. I think of VITA 46 as a supercomputing architecture. It allows military designers to take advantage of high-density switched fabrics such as Serial Rapid I/O, 10-gigabit Ethernet, InfiniBand, etc.

It also allows for liquid cooling in addition to conduction and convection. Liquid cooling will be necessary due to all the heat these high-performance devices will generate.

VITA 46 will still be VME as long as the application uses VME; otherwise it will take the form of a pure fabric architecture.

Q. What technology is the current frontrunner in your mind for switched fabrics for military designs?

A. Ethernet gets all the press but I would have to say Infiniband. InfiniBand is already at 10 gigabits and has hardware in place whereas 10-gigabit Ethernet does not. One-gigabit Ethernet is a total disaster. It is just too slow. InfiniBand is ideal for large streaming I/O applications such as sonar radar. Serial Rapid I/O is also a player in this area with designers currently looking to take it from 2.5 gigabits to 6 gigabits. PCI Express is also looking to go to 5 or 6 gigabits.

Q. There has been reported interest among military systems integrators in Compact PCI technology, especially regarding PICMG 2.16 specification. Do you see this at all cutting into VME’s military market share?

A. No, I do not. PICMG 2.16 deals with 1-gigabit Ethernet, which is too slow to be effective. It is only used for small communications in the field such as sending Red Cross messages, ordering pizzas, or sending e-mails to husbands and wives that take two or three days to arrive.

Compact PCI is used in small, embedded applications in the 3U form factor such as unmanned aerial vehicles. 6U Compact PCI is extremely slow and not deterministic enough for mission-critical military applications. Basically Compact PCI is a dog and PCIMG 2.16 is a dog with fleas.

Q. What is the current outlook for VME technology in the military right now?

A. New military design-ins are not showing huge growth right now because we are in the middle of a war on terror and the military does not traditionally do software and hardware upgrades in the middle of a conflict.

Q. What is the next hot technology in the bus and board world that military designers should keep an eye on-five or even 10 years on?

A. That’s easy. Intellectual-property (IP) cores or FPGAs [field-programmable gate arrays]. The main reason is that they eliminate the obsolescence problem that the commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) initiative gave us. COTS brought a lot of wonderful things such as low prices but obsolescence was the bad side effect.

IP cores, which are placed on FPGAs, relieve designers of the stress that comes when a chip designer such as Intel ends the life of a product. Now they can keep that chip technology on a core. It is much like a Linux model where you can own the source code. IP cores allow designers to control their own destiny, plan on 10- to 15-year lifecycles, and get all the advantages of COTS chips without the disadvantage-obsolescence.

Q. When will the speeds of optical computing make copper wire obsolete?

A. I never thought copper wire would be able to handle 1 gigabit, let alone 10. Now there are proprietary fabric designs out there that are looking at 20 gigabits per second all on copper wire. If someone switches to optical technology it will not be because of speed. It will be because optical computing is immune to electro- magnetic pulse and works more efficiently in high-electronic-noise applications like linear accelerators at CERN in Switzerland and other high-noise applications.

Click here to enlarge image

Ray Alderman, Executive director of the VME International Trade Association (VITA)

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!