AdvancedTCA (ATCA) based systems are reaching new performance levels with the latest Intel® Xeon® Processors E5-2600 and E5-2400 Series. These processors provide several key features that increase ATCA platform throughput including more cores, enhanced power management, and greater memory and I/O bandwidth.


In this blog I am going to explore the latest developments in the ATCA market and the benefits that Intel® Xeon® Processors E5-2600 and E5-2400 Series bring to these platforms. Many of the 200-plus member companies in the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance provide solutions for ATCA. For this blog I have been talking to four members of the alliance that have both processor blades and complete application ready ATCA platforms; Advantech, Emerson, Kontron and ADLINK Technology.


ATCA and the Shift to 40G          


ATCA was designed as a common platform for telecom systems. ATCA chassis have 2-16 slots with shared power supplies, cooling units and management cards. Each slot can have a large front blade and a much smaller rear transition module (RTM). The front blades can be any mix of processor, storage and I/O blades. Larger systems use 1, 2 or 4 slots for switch blades. The most common configuration is a 16 slot system with two switch blades providing redundancy.


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Figure 1. 40G ATCA Platform


First and second generation ATCA-based systems had Gigabit Ethernet (GE) switch blades. Third generation ATCA systems with 10GE switch blades started shipping in 2007 and  forth generation systems with 40GE switch blades became available in volume at the start of 2012. ATCA chassis and backplanes and have also developed to support the higher speed interconnects and more power per slot, beyond the original 200W specification. The latest ATCA chassis will support 40Gbit/s interconnects and 350W or more per slot. This is opening up new applications for ATCA within and beyond telecom.


ATCA Expands Beyond Telecom               


ATCA is already widely used within telecom with most tier 1 vendors and many tier 2/3 vendors building ATCA-based systems. Most first and second generation ATCA-based systems were used in wireless infrastructure for 3G networks. Third and fourth generation ATCA-based systems are used by several leading vendors for the enhanced packet core (EPC) and other parts of the 4G/LTE wireless infrastructure including policy management.


10G and 40G ATCA-based systems are now used in a wide range of applications beyond wireless infrastructure including security, IPTV and wideband access controllers. ATCA is also being used in enterprise networks, scientific research and military applications.


Technology Trends        


Over the past few years there have been some significant changes in the way companies are using ATCA. Many companies building ATCA-based systems have integrated chassis, blades and platform software in-house. There is now a noticeable trend away from in-house integration towards sourcing application ready platforms. This change is largely driven by the cost of integrating new 10G and 40G systems and the ready availability of 10G and 40G application ready platforms with the latest technology including the Intel® Xeon® Processors E5-2600 and E5-2400 Series.


The performance increase delivered by these latest solutions is enabling companies to use a single platform across a wide range of applications. In many cases companies can support several applications using a single processor and switch combination, scaling the number of processor blades to meet the specific requirements. This trend is driving an increase in the use of Intel architecture (IA) processors with companies using IA processors for both control and data plane applications.


The use of IA processors for data plane applications has been made significantly easier with the introduction of the Intel data plane development kit (DPDK). The DPDK is a set of source code programming libraries that implement basic packet processing functions such as moving data in and out of Intel processors. Many companies developing ATCA-based systems are already taking advantage of the DPDK for data plane functions such as deep packet inspection (DPI) for policy management, security and other applications.


Enabling Performance


Intel® Xeon® Processors E5-2600 and E5-2400 Series have up to 8 cores, four DDR3-1600 memory controllers, two 8GT/s QPI interfaces and 20MB layer 3 caches. This enables significantly higher performance than previous generations. The Intel® Xeon® Processors E5-2600 and E5-2400 Series also have up to 40 PCI Express 3.0 lanes supporting I/O bandwidth significantly in excess of 100 Gbps. For ATCA this allows support for dual 40GE network interfaces and additional PCI Express lanes to support network interfaces on the front panel and storage or further interface options on the rear transition module (RTM).


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Figure 2. 40G ATCA Processor Blade with Intel® Xeon® Processors E5-2600 Series



Multivendor Ecosystem


The ATCA market is now supported by a mature ecosystem. ATCA processor blades integrating Intel® Xeon® Processors E5-2600 and E5-2400 Series are available from more than four vendors giving system developers significant choice. By using these blades equipment manufacturers can quickly upgrade their ATCA systems to take advantage of the performance uplift from Intel® Xeon® Processors E5-2600 and E5-2400 Series or introduce new systems based on 40G ATCA platforms that will give them market leading solutions.


To learn more about achieving industry-leading performance, see


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Advantech, Emerson and Kontron are premier members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. ADLINK is an associate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.


Simon Stanley

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance

Principal Consultant, Earlswood Marketing

Follow me on Twitter: @simon_stanley