AdvancedTCA set to make inroads in military applications

May 1, 2005
Board designers in the telecommunications industry praise the AdvancedTCA backplane because it offers bandwidth as fast as 2.5 terabits per second.

By Ben Ames

Board designers in the telecommunications industry praise the AdvancedTCA backplane because it offers bandwidth as fast as 2.5 terabits per second. They also like its design flexibility because it is fabric-agnostic.

Those specifications should also make it popular with military board designers, and the backplane will soon begin to penetrate military applications, according to at least one new market study.

The AdvancedTCA portion of the steadily growing Open Standards Chassis (OSC) market will grow from $221 million in 2004 to multiple billions of dollars in 2009, says Eric Mantion, an analyst with In-Stat, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Driving much of that growth are telecommunication providers who want to use AdvancedTCA-based OSCs in their networking equipment to save costs, he says. An OSC is a standardized chassis that can be used in many different types of networking-related equipment.

The trend will not stop there.

“While the telecommunications market is expected to be the first area of growth for AdvancedTCA, it will also start penetrating into other markets, such as military, medical/industrial, and eventually enterprise,” Mantion says. The study defines the military market as including the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

One hurdle that is slowing its spread from telecommunications to military applications is ruggedization standards.

“The AdvancedTCA is designed to be NEBS-compliant, not military grade,” Mantion says. “However, when you start to peel those specifications apart, many aspects of each are similar. Therefore, it seems quite likely that with relatively minor adjustments, ATCA-based gear could be crossed over to military uses; as you know, COTS is a huge initiative for the DOD.”

Engineers at Bell Labs defined the Network Equipment Building System (NEBS) standard in the 1970s for designs demanding physical protection, electromagnetic compatibility, safety, and reliability. Today the standard is administered by Telcordia, in Piscataway, N.J., a spinoff of Bell Labs and Bellcore (Bell Communications Research).

In an example of overlapping specifications, leaders at Sun Microsystems, Santa Clara, Calif., build data-storage systems that are compliant with both standards. Many Sun StorEdge arrays are both NEBS Level 3 certified and MIL-STD-810F compliant, meeting regulations on altitude, temperature, humidity, shock, vibration, and salt fog corrosion.

In another sign of military acceptance, the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) in February released the first two specifications defining a new Advanced Mezzanine Card architecture. Based on the AdvancedTCA architecture, AdvancedMC is the first entirely new open-mezzanine standard to be developed in more than a decade, the group says. AdvancedMC cards are switch-fabric based, hot swappable, and fully managed.

The specification leaves room for all the major fabrics. AMC.0 defines mezzanine cards, while AMC.1 maps PCI-Express onto the extended fabric interface. Additional specifications to support Ethernet, storage, and SerialRapid I/O are near completion and will be released as AMC.2, AMC.3 and AMC.4 respectively. For more information, see

In fact, the standard is a major initiative for the standards group.

According to the PICMG website, “Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA) is the largest specification effort in PICMG’s history, with more than 100 companies participating.

“AdvancedTCA, the PICMG 3.X family, is a new series of PICMG specifications, targeted to requirements for the next generation of carrier-grade communications equipment. This series of specifications incorporates the latest trends in high-speed interconnect technologies, next-generation processors, and improved reliability, manageability, and serviceability.”

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