Embedded computer industry divided over how to proceed with VPX high-speed serial bus standards

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands–Officials of the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) in London say their agency needs to find better ways of upgrading fielded military avionics systems for the duration of their aircraft platforms’ life cycles.

Apr 1st, 2009

By John Keller

FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz.–The high-performance embedded computer industry is divided over how to proceed with refining industry standards surrounding the VITA-46 VPX high-speed serial bus for fast data transfer, and is fracturing into competing camps for defining a specification for system-level VPX interoperability.

Four influential members of the military embedded computing industry issued a joint statement calling for the VITA Standards Organization (VSO)–the standards arm of the VITA open standards trade association in Fountain Hills, Ariz.–to lead industry efforts to define an industry standard for system-level VPX interoperability.

The statement from these companies–Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing in Leesburg, Va.; Elma Electronic Inc. in Fremont, Calif.; Carlo Gavazzi Computing Solutions in Brockton, Mass.; and Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc. (X-ES) in Middleton, Wis.–runs counter to the newly founded OpenVPX Industry Working Group, which is seeking industry consensus on VPX interoperability standards outside of the VITA VSO.

The independent OpenVPX group was founded in January by Mercury Computer Systems Inc. of Chelmsford, Mass., and includes Aitech Defense Systems in Chatsworth, Calif.; GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms in Charlottesville, Va.; Hybricon in Ayer, Mass.; and Tracewell Systems in Westerville, Ohio.

The four companies promoting VSO leadership in formulating VPX standards, however, claim the VITA Standards Organization is the appropriate group to see VPX evolution through.

“We recognize the importance of defining an open specification for system-level VPX interoperability, but we also believe that this work is best done within the existing, proven model of the VSO Working Group system,” the VSO Four said in a joint statement. “The open forum provided by VITA is the right and best place for the industry to cooperatively develop the critical new VPX initiatives destined for use by important customers such as the U.S. military.”

Formation of a VPX interoperability working group within the VSO will ensure “that no single company or selective group of companies is able to exert undo influence on the specification and unfairly benefit from the cooperative work of all the member companies who have contributed resources and efforts over many years to the standard’s development,” the joint statement reads.

The OpenVPX group members branched off on their own in January to pursue VPX interoperability open industry standards largely out of frustration that the VITA Standards Organization was moving too slowly on formulating crucial industrywide standards and guidelines.

Furthermore, leaders of the OpenVPX group say they are not working completely outside of VITA. Members say they plan to publish a comprehensive system design guide then bring it back to the VITA Standards Organization for mapping into various VITA 46 dot specifications. OpenVPX members are concerned they will lose VPX market opportunities if interoperability standards for this new technology are not laid down–and soon.

Still, the VSO Four members say the VITA Standards Organization will be able to respond quickly enough to VPX interoperability standards concerns if the group has the right structure.

“One claim we’ve heard is that VITA does not move fast enough,” says Mike Hornby, director of marketing at Curtiss-Wright Embedded. “I think everyone who has participated in a standards body knows that its far less the standard body’s processes and policies that cause delays than it is the time each participating member has available to dedicate to writing and editing a specification in progress.”

To help speed the standards process, the VSO Four say the VITA Standards Organization needs to establish a VPX interoperability working group to get standards in place in time for their industry to take advantage of market opportunities that emerge. A lack of interoperability standards might discourage large systems integrators from using VPX, and might even encourage big companies to devise proprietary high-speed serial data networks of their own, some fear.

“A new VSO working group to define VPX interoperability should be established,” says Justin Moll, marketing manager at Elma Electronic. “This subcommittee should openly and proactively report their progress and their significant achievement milestones to VITA members at large. This approach would encourage constructive feedback about progress and timetables for completion, both from participating working group members and the general VITA membership. It would also ensure that the standards process remain open, fair, and consistent with the procedures as prescribed in the VSO charter.”

VITA executive director Ray Alderman has said he welcomes the OpenVPX group’s efforts to jump-start the formulation of VPX interoperability standards. He also says he welcomes the formation of systems-level standards committees inside the VSO. He points out however, that “the VSO must serve the user community’s needs by completing the [VPX interoperability] specification quickly.”

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