Lost opportunity for the VME embedded electronics industry

Feb. 19, 2009
 Commentary -- The military VME embedded electronics industry may be throwing away an opportunity to unite behind a new generation of industry standards designed to help guide military and aerospace embedded computing designers into the future.

By John Keller

The military VME embedded electronics industry may be throwing away an opportunity to unite behind a new generation of industry standards designed to help guide military embedded electronics designers into the future.

A new industry alliance called the OpenVPX Industry Working Group, led by high-performance embedded computer specialist Mercury Computer Systems in Chelmsford, Mass., has been formed to solve interoperability issues in a high-speed processor interconnect industry standard called VPX -- also known as VITA 46.

Unfortunately this group also risks fragmenting the industry, creating animosity, and fostering suspicion among VPX providers because the alliance's steering group is not yet open to all VPX providers.

As an example, Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing in Leesburg, Va. -- one of the largest VPX providers in the industry -- initially was not invited to participate. Other excluded companies are complaining, too. Accusations are flying that some in industry are trying to exclude their competitors and deny them a voice in guidelines that will help define the future of their industry.

Not only this, but some VME embedded board product providers also are questioning what influence the Mercury-led OpenVPX Industry Working Group will have on the already established VME industry standards association -- VITA of Fountain Hills, Ariz.

If the VME industry already has an organization to formulate standards and forge consensus, then why have a new organization that does some of the same things?

The charge has been leveled -- not without justification -- that the VITA Standards Organization, as structured, is too slow in coming up with pertinent industry standards. Some say the new OpenVPX Industry Working Group is necessary to speed up the standards process and discourage companies from developing their own proprietary standards -- a situation VITA was originally formed to prevent.

Is the OpenVPX Industry Working Group a competitor to VITA? Which group will hold sway when conflicts among proposed standards emerge? Will the existence of the two groups force companies to choose sides? With this precedent set, what's to keep Curtiss-Wright from starting an industry organization of its own as a counterweight to the Mercury-led OpenVPX Industry Working Group?

Not only this, but the companies not invited to participate in the new organization are taking a look at VITA and asking what's the point of this group in which they have invested so much time and energy over the years.

Several compnies pay $25,000 a year to be members of VITA and to sit on the organization's board of directors. Leaders of these companies must be asking, "what am I paying my $25,000 annual fee for?"

Let's take a look at the situation from the standpoint of VITA. How could this organization be so adrift as to allow the circumstances that helped give rise to the OpenVPX Industry Working Group to happen in the first place? It's unavoidable, as matters stand now, not to call into question the leadership, viability, and relevance of Ray Alderman, the VITA executive director.

Alderman says he is torn between a need he acknowledges for getting things done more quickly outside of the VITA VSO, and the possibility the new group may go against the "equality and fairness that VITA promotes" by excluding some members in the charter group.

The mere existence of the OpenVPX Industry Working Group demonstrates that VITA isn't doing the job it was created to do, and Alderman needs to step up and take responsibility for this.

If this doesn't happen, the respected VME industry risks fragmentation, obsolescence, and ultimately irrelevance. Now is not the time for members of the VME community to take sides. It's time for the industry to decide, collectively, what's best for its future -- and to do the right thing to make sure it has a future.

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