ATCA/Standard Servers

Nortel Preaches ATCA

SAN JOSE, Calif. –- Light Reading Live -- The transition to AdvancedTCA (ATCA) might not be pretty, but it pays off, according to Nortel Networks Ltd. .

Mitch Simcoe, a senior manager of product marketing, explained his company's history with ATCA in his keynote speech at "ATCA, AMC, & MicroTCA 2007: Moving to Deployment," a day-long Light Reading event held here yesterday.

"Our customers are looking to ATCA as kind of a standard building block they want to deploy," Simcoe said. "They may not buy all the building blocks from the same vendor, but they're looking for the ATCA look and feel."

The ATCA standards, organized by the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) , describe generic telecom chassis, allowing systems vendors to buy a shell of hardware and some software from outside suppliers. That's supposed to shorten the design cycle and lower costs, freeing systems vendors to concentrate on finding a competitive edge in software. (See HR: ATCA Gains Momentum and ATCA & IMS Reinvent TEMs.)

Nortel's ATCA platform, the Versatile Service Engine (VSE), has gone through two development cycles, with customer deployments of the hardware just beginning, Simcoe said.

Among the lessons learned is that it's hard to get different product groups to agree on one framework. ATCA offers the promise of being able to build several different systems from one base chassis, but it's tough to get those design groups to agree on elements such as processing power or storage capacity, Simcoe said.

"We've actually gone through a couple releases now, and we're close to achieving alignment across the board. Once you get it going, you start to see the effect of delivering product faster to market."

Nortel's ATCA blueprint includes some software from outside, such as a Linux kernel from Wind River Systems Inc. , but Nortel still does the middleware itself. The company is willing to outsource that piece in some cases, but needs to find suitable middleware compliant with Service Availability Forum (SAF) specifications, Simcoe said.

Most ATCA benefits are intangible, but they're quantifiable, according to John Fryer, a director of technology marketing for ATCA vendor Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT).

Table 1: ATCA: Tallying the Cost Savings
Board Base Communications Server Communications Server + HA Operating Environment
Customer's Estimated Cost to Produce In-House

Estimated Benefits:
Cost Savings from Outsourcing
Time to Market Benefit
Resources Redeployment Benefit
Risk Reduction Value
Estimated Overall Benefit
Source: Motorola Inc.; http://www.motorola.com/computing/sourcingbenefits

"Every single major equipment manufacturer in the world" has ATCA in its plans, Fryer said. That includes a host of Chinese manufacturers, including Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , that have reputations for offering low-price goods, he noted.

ATCA still has limited uses, though. The capacity of ATCA systems started at 14 Gbit/s and is only now reaching 150 Gbit/s, said Heavy Reading analyst-at-large Simon Stanley, who moderated the LR Live event.

Wireless core network gear, with its less demanding speed requirements, has been the first big ATCA market. "OC3 [155 Mbit/s] is probably the maximum data rate that we've seen," with T1/E1 speeds [1.544 Mbit/s or 2.048 Mbit/s] being even more common, said panelist Ian MacMillan, a senior product marketing manager for Interphase Corp.

Panelists agreed IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is likely to be the next prime area for ATCA, possibly followed by IPTV servers. Telecom switching and routing aren't likely to come until later, when a 10-Gbit/s backplane gives ATCA the heft to build 500- and 600-Gbit/s systems, Stanley said.

That view jibes with what Nortel sees. "We are doing some trials on IMS," Simcoe said, "but we'll probably see deployments in the wireless voice core first."

Nortel's next steps with ATCA will include: 10-Gbit/s Ethernet switching; multicore microprocessors, instead of the dual-core chips being used now; and equipment to go with Nortel's "really big push into fourth-generation wireless," Simcoe said.

ATCA, AMC, and MicroTCA 2007: Moving to Deployment is being reprised in Paris on March 14, with a different set of speakers and an Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) keynote speaker. For more information, or to register, click here.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:12:54 PM
re: Nortel Preaches ATCA Alcatel-Lucent probably has anecdotes similar to Nortel's: Tough to get internal processes and mentalities in line with ATCA, but rewarding once it's rolling.

Anybody else have ATCA experience they'd like to share? How's ATCA working for you?
rainbowarrior 12/5/2012 | 3:12:51 PM
re: Nortel Preaches ATCA
ATCA is a great way to get away from boring old, in-house system development.

Sure it's more expensive has vastly lower-throughput and has awkward middleware integration. But it changes platform development from a stodgy but reliable enterprise to an exiting rollercoaster ride chock full of over-promising vendors, multi-source interoperability problems and unreliable support.

Believe me, there's nothing that makes you feel more alive than knowing that my entire platform could be end-of-life'd by another company anytime. Product development has always been a little too easy- but ATCA has changed all that.

One caveat though: Nortel is right that you do have to change the mentality of your organization if you embark on the path to the ATCA promised land. Worriers and fretters who are concerned about risk management need to be silenced. Uptight product quality advocates need to be told not to get their nickers in a twist over shallow concerns such as product scale, price and throughput. We are stepping boldly into the future, according to visionary companies like Nortel, who have always led the way and we must be willing to pay the price.
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