By Tim McElligott
Jun 7, 2007 12:00 AM
It was June 2003 in Atlanta when Howard Bubb, vice president and general manager of Intel's network processing group, was evangelizing about modularity and throwing his company's considerable weight behind the emerging Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA or ATCA.)
In April 2005, Bubb stepped down. In June last year, Intel sold its communications and application processor business--an important driver behind its support for ATCA. In 10 days, NXTcomm 2007 throws open its doors at Chicago's McCormick Place, and the big question will be: Where does that leave ATCA?
Well, it certainly won't be the biggest question, but it is one of those questions that people begin to ask as an event develops, as they walk around the trade show floor and listen for what's next--thus the name NXTcomm--and realize they aren't hearing as much about what they heard last year and the year before.
Chances are, those who are listening will still hear plenty about ATCA. The technology still has a big proponent in Motorola, who just this week announced a distribution agreement with Dragon Technology Distribution to meet increasing demand for open, standards-based AdvancedTCA and MicroTCA-based products in China. There also will be a PICMG Technologies Showcase (booth 4257) that will feature member companies of the PICMG consortium demonstrating products based on ATCA and other specifications.
Certainly, you'll be hearing more from companies such as Kontron, a PICMG member that launched a new ATCA processor platform at the event last year. But then again, we haven't hear a peep from Aviva Networks since it came out of stealth mode at last year's event and made a big splash with its 10 Gb/s ATCA-based processor cards. The company is not on the exhibitor list and hasn't had a press release since last year. Both companies are--or were--Intel-based.
Dialogic, a provider of board-level media processing and signaling solutions, once owned by Intel, will be introducing a new multimedia platform this month at NXTcomm that is built on a blade for the ATCA architecture. Although the company also chooses not to focus on another much-hyped trend over the last couple of years, namely IMS, the new platform will be IMS ready.
"IMS isn't being adopted nearly as fast as the people who wrote the spec thought it would," said Bill Bryant, director or marketing for Dialogic. "But this product is as IMS-compliant today as you will find in the market, and we will grow into the IMS spec as the rest of the network does--if it goes that way."
The official name of Dialogic's new card is the SS7AM1 Mezzanine Card. It will connect to TDM-based networks as well as those based on IP, and it supports a variety of other protocols. It can offload single-board computer nodes using its own processor. It is part of Dialogic's Signaling Distributed Architecture, which manages cross-platform signaling applications. Although it supports ATCA, the functionality in this case is more important than form. In addition to the capacity for four high-speed interfaces running at up to 2 Mb/s and up to 124 low-speed links, enhanced Sigtran functionality is an important feature of the new product.
"We had limited Sigtran support before, but we are greatly enhancing that with software functionality that accelerates the transition of signaling from TDM to IP," Bryant said.
The reason functionality trumps form in this case is that "ATCA is just another form factor to us," Bryant said. "We need to embrace whatever standard form factor the industry is moving to."
And therein lies the question for NXTcomm. In what direction is the industry moving now that Intel pulled out?
Dialogic began development on its soon-to-be-announced multimedia platform when it was still part of Intel, so it necessarily supports ATCA, which Bryant said is really the next generation of CompactPCI, another standards-based form factor.
He said the company is not moving away from CompactPCI, and it will continue to support and deliver product both for it and for ATCA. But there are other standards on the horizon. One such standard we should be listening for at NXTcomm is MicroTCA.
Companies such as Kontron were talking about it last year and may feel inclined to talk it up more this year, given the potentially waning influence of Intel in the matter. Bryant wouldn't reveal Dialogic's plans for MicroTCA, but he did say that over the next six to 12 months the company would aggressively come to market with MicroTCA-based products. And he added this: "To a certain extent, MicroTCA is taking the industry by storm now."
MicroTCA was ratified by PICMG last July. It already has its own summit, which took place last week in Maryland. The technology is based on the use of Advanced Mezzanine Cards and is much smaller than ATCA.
"ATCA's inherent problem has always been power consumption," Bryant said. He added that the defense industry, a strong supporter of ATCA, is rapidly adopting the concepts of MicroTCA.
Dialogic won't be the only company not talking formally about MicroTCA but still introducing new signaling solutions. Tekelec will be launching a new SIP Signaling Router, which is a product based on technology acquired from Iptel.org.
In March, Tekelec and HP began touting their enhanced relationship centered around interoperability between Tekelec's TekCore Session Manager, a call state control function within IMS, and HP's OpenCall home subscriber server, both of which run on ATCA-based blade servers. At NXTcomm, Tekelec will be talking about the next phase of this partnership strategy and the addition of important new members.
"Neither of us have an end-to-end next-generation solution on our own, so we are forced to be very open and follow the standards," said Steve French, senior manager with Tekelec's signaling group.
Perhaps NXTcomm will provide some direction.