ATCA Finds Its Stride
It's starting to happen, according to Radisys Corp. (Nasdaq: RSYS) and others here at Light Reading's "ATCA, AMC & MicroTCA" conference on Thursday. Most speakers during the day said ATCA is really hitting its stride now that it's gone through a full generation of equipment.
Admittedly, it's taken six years since the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) ratified the first base specification for ATCA, which provides the building blocks for telecom equipment. (See Whatever Happened to ATCA?)
"The people who took the plunge four years ago maybe had a hard time. People who took the plunge two years ago have been pleasantly surprised," conference moderator and Heavy Reading analyst Simon Stanley told Light Reading between panel sessions.
The idea behind ATCA is for equipment vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) to save time and development costs by buying pre-designed chassis, blades, and/or middleware from the outside.
The concept butts against the in-house development that still dominates most equipment vendors, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) being prime examples. And ATCA continues to face competition from HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), with their BladeSystem c-Class and BladeCenter products. (See HP Ditches ATCA.)
Stanley is predicting a $7.3 billion ATCA market by 2012. (See ATCA Takeoff Is Imminent.) That's a nearly 100 percent per year growth rate, a figure the ATCA vendors aren't challenging.
"We're starting to see more widespread adoption," said Ian MacMillan, senior product marketing manager at Interphase Corp. , during a morning panel. "The Tier 1 [equipment vendors] have been a little bit slow. We're starting to see the Tier 2 and Tier 3s build platforms around this technology."
And then you've got the vendors taking advantage of ATCA by using the chassis -- saving development time -- but developing all the blades themselves, meaning they get to keep the system proprietary. It's becoming a popular method in China, particularly with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , one source at the conference said.
"Within the past year I've seen three customers do that," said Eric Gregory, RadiSys's ATCA senior product manager, speaking on a roundtable about the impact of ATCA.
You could consider RadiSys to be losing potential sales that way, but Gregory says the practice works out fine for his company. RadiSys even gets consulting business helping those vendors make the cards.
ATCA gear is still relatively expensive, and that's made some equipment makers shy away in the past. But MacMillan and other panelists said that's become less of a factor; the theory is that off-the-shelf building blocks save the equipment vendor money in the long run. Moreover, the premium gets shaved down if the volumes are high enough.
"The cost of chassis that have gone into production, that have really high volume, isn't a huge premium over doing it yourself. I'll put it in the 10 percent range," said Tom Ertel, vice president of engineering at Genband Inc. (Actually, that's the NextPoint Networks part of Genband -- see Genband Scores NextPoint.)
However, "when new blades come out, I do find it's a little bit cost prohibitive."
Interoperability among ATCA vendors has gotten a lot better -- Ertel noted he's never had a problem in that area -- but it's still not perfect. That means many ATCA projects remain sole-sourced.
Alastair Hewitt, software architecture principal of startup 4DK Technologies Inc. , noted that his company is sticking with RadiSys as its ATCA supplier. Paul Steinberg, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) fellow and chief architect, said his company had nine ATCA products shipping and had used two suppliers, but with no crossover; each product is sourced from only one of the two.
At least interoperability is better than it used to be.
"I remember the days when we were going to these plugfests and people were trying to figure out whether these things were compatible mechanically. Blades wouldn't fit into chassis, and people would take mallets to get them in. I'm not kidding," said Venkataraman Prasannan, RadiSys's senior director for ATCA products.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading