… and there was a parallel bus, which was fast and effective. But as time passed and speed increased, the poor old parallel bus could not keep up and next generation serial solutions started to appear. At the same time, new processors with increased capability, capacity and performance arrived, but required much more power than before. Supplying the power and cooling for these new technologies was becoming an issue.
As people looked forward, they saw that the current solutions were inadequate to support the new performance requirements. Additionally, the advent of the packet based network, deprecation of custom designs and the dawn of COTS infrastructure were all considered as they designed a new specification to meet those new requirements. And so, ATCA was born.
Designed for the next generation packet based networks with NEBS compliance as its basis, ATCA is a serial based solution with large blades that can provide the power and cooling support the new CPUs needed. The base specification covers power distribution (aligned with central office needs), management structure, managed field replaceable units, interconnect performance, flexibility, expansion and redundancy to name a few.
Now, at the time, there were many possibilities of how these blades could be interconnected. With Infiniband, PCIe/ASI, sRIO, Hypertransport and (of course) Ethernet as possibilities, there were a number of strong candidates. Therefore, the ATCA specification was structured to allow these to be applied as dot specs, additional overlays on the base specification to provide the required customisations for handling the protocol. In hindsight, it would have been easier to pick one, of course, but at the time it was not an easy choice. Today, it is easy to see that Ethernet has become the king of backplane interconnects for ATCA and has driven a strong and flourishing ATCA eco-system. The other interconnect standards are now being used more for onboard interconnect and specialised applications.
With ATCA now firmly established as a key solution for telecommunication equipment manufacturers – some of whom even base their standard platform strategy on the open standard – it is imperative that we focus our attention on the future of ATCA. In coming blogs, I will look at several aspects of the push toward new technologies and the next generation of ATCA.