ATCA/Standard Servers

ATCA Is in Da House

BOSTON -- Now that AdvancedTCA (ATCA) is getting established, components companies and systems integrators face an interesting challenge: getting equipment vendors to buy from them instead of building everything themselves.

Put another way: ATCA was supposed to open up a universe where network equipment could be built from ready-made products, and assembled and tested by an integrator if desired. That's starting to happen. But some large equipment vendors -- such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and particularly Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. -- are taking advantage of ATCA standards by building those pieces themselves.

In fact, while the ATCA market is likely to grow to $6.7 billion in 2012, about half of that will consist of commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) deployments, said Simon Stanley, Heavy Reading analyst-at-large. The other half would be gear developed in-house.

"We're seeing a strong movement toward ATCA, but a lot of network equipment providers are actually building their own ATCA components rather than buying off the shelf," Stanley said during his morning keynote here at Light Reading's xTCA Ecosystems Conference today.

The numbers will be detailed in the upcoming Heavy Reading report, "ATCA, AMC & MicroTCA Market Forecast 2009."

ATCA has found its footing in few areas of telecom: wireless gear, Internet Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) equipment, and -- to some extent -- video and IPTV, Stanley said. It's also winding its way into the data center world, to more directly compete with off-the-shelf blade systems from HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). (See ATCA Attacks the Data Center.)

Suppliers of ATCA systems or pieces have certainly been active. Stanley's upcoming report lists 500 products, 250 of which are new or updated since last year's report.

Large equipment providers have embraced ATCA, some examples being Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Nokia Networks , and the aforementioned AlcaLu and Huawei. The question now is how to translate more of that interest into business for the vendors dealing in ATCA hardware, off-the-shelf software, and systems integration.

Part of what makes it difficult is that many systems providers still decry the cost of switching from their proprietary architectures to ATCA.

"It's the biggest hurdle," said Mike Christofferson, director of product management for software vendor Enea AB , during a late-morning panel session.

Still, there's some heartening news for anyone trying to make money in ATCA. First, the decisions over whether to build equipment in-house or not are always in flux, Stanley said.

And once ATCA gets into a company's brain, it's got an almost viral quality, he noted. (Actually, he used a domino metaphor, but "brain virus" brings to mind cooler pictures.)

Anyway, the domino/virus effect refers to the reusability of ATCA pieces -- which also explains why a company like Huawei would adopt ATCA even if it's still designing all the components in-house. Over time, an ATCA-heavy company can get faster at churning out new systems or board variants.

"Once someone's successfully put together one ATCA system, ATCA almost becomes the default," Stanley said. "There are some major network equipment providers who've got 10, 15, or 20 different products in development for ATCA, and that's going to have a major impact on the market for ATCA."

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

bbiswas 12/5/2012 | 3:55:44 PM
re: ATCA Is in Da House ATCA certainly has moved into mainstream but the larger players are developing their own ATCA systems (hardware and software) as opposed to buying from other COTS vendors. I think this is happening due to the lack of strong validation and certification program from the COTS vendors. Larger companies cannot be sure if the COTS they can buy are of sufficiently high quality and truly conforms to the PICMG standards. Today they have to rely primarily on the COTS vendors' statements that it does work properly. ATCA standards have been accepted by the industry but not necessarily on the quality of the COTS. COTS vendors need project that confidence.

Bud Biswas
Polaris Networks
[email protected]
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:55:40 PM
re: ATCA Is in Da House

Thanks for the insights, Bud.  I think you're correct about larger vendors questioning COTS quality. 

I wonder if that's something that COTS suppliers could alter through marketing, plugfests, etc. .... or if it's going to be more a case of letting xTCA build to a critical mass.  Once the tier 2/3 competition have had xTCA systems out there for enough of a life cycle, that would be evidence of xTCA's worthiness.

Of course, that would take years.  Somehow I don't think the suppliers will want to wait that long.

Gabriel Brown 12/5/2012 | 3:55:39 PM
re: ATCA Is in Da House

It’s definitely an issue. System vendors with experience of ATCA often talk about the challenge of shielding their customers (operators) from what happens in the supply chain. One example – a firmware upgrade from one chipset supplier could lead to the whole system needing to be re-tested.

So in that sense, vendors are seeing the limits of the COTS model and taking development back in-house. At least, that’s how it’s been pitched to me.

bollocks187 12/5/2012 | 3:55:35 PM
re: ATCA Is in Da House

The problem is simple ig you are a volume manufacture like AL or Huw. why and earth would you let some else build your ATCA chassis.

You can control the cost and quality yourself through manufacturing

The good part  ATCA is you can get all the details of the design on the web - the documentation is excellent and in many cases superior than the people who build telecom products in the first place.

The bad part of ATCA is all the information is FREE and out there no more secrets to chassis design every bob and whistle you can think of is included in the the specifications.... hence the high cost of an ATCA Chassis.

The ugly part of ATCA there will be no sustainale market for the number of COTS as the only folks who can buy it in volume are the likes of AL, Huw etc and they are cost reducing the heck out of the design, similiar to perhaps IBM and blade servers. 

The hope part of ATCA - redesign a new complete lower cost chassis <$1000


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