AdvancedTCA Makes Headway

An open standard for building telecom gear is proving popular with carriers, but not with Cisco

March 17, 2004

3 Min Read
AdvancedTCA Makes Headway

Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA) -- an open standard for building telecom gear -- is gaining in popularity, judging by a new product announced today, on the eve of the CeBIT tradeshow in Hanover, Germany.

Telco Systems (BATM), an Israeli manufacturer of IP gear, is launching what it claims is the first IP-based platform built according to the AdvancedTCA specifications. The product, T6Pro, is a Layer 3 switch aimed at carriers and enterprises (see Telco Systems Intros T6Pro).

AdvancedTCA, also known as PICMG 3.x, is a family of specifications that defines a way of building the next generation of "carrier grade" telecom equipment with switching capacities up to 2.5 Tbit/s in a single shelf. The specifications contain enough information to allow board, backplane, and chassis vendors to independently develop products that will be interoperable when integrated together.

It is being developed by the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG), a consortium of over 400 companies. More than 100 vendors are actively participating in the development of PICMG 3.x , making it the largest standardization effort in the organization's history. The key driver behind it is Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC).

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701), and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) are working on wireless infrastructure based on AdvancedTCA, while Force Computers and Intel are developing computing-based platforms.

The idea behind the standard is that blades from one vendor could be incorporated into a chassis made by another vendor. "Today, if you look, you have a separate infrastructure for ATM, IP, wireless, storage, PSTN switches, and so on," says Danny Berko, BATM's product manager. "One day all services could be integrated into a single platform. The concept is any protocol on any card on any slot on an AdvancedTCA platform."

Whether this level of interoperability is a practical reality remains to be seen. Establishing standards and implementing them is a good start, but service providers will probably take a lot of convincing before they'll start mixing different vendors' cards in the same chassis. All the same, the existence of the standards will probably help drive down equipment prices, because it will lead to greater commoditization of subystems as well as the components that go into them (see Switch-Fabric Chipsets).

BATM claims to have sold its product to three major customers already -- the German Navy, the Israeli Army, and an Italian bank -- and a fourth customer in the U.S. is in the evaluation stage.

However, several key names in the IP world are missing from the AdvancedTCA standardization effort, most notably Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

"You will not see Cisco there, because it has a proprietary interface," Berko contends. The standards might weaken Cisco's ability to lock in carriers.

"While some still feel that hardware standardization will eliminate the ability to differentiate products, we disagree," says Ernie Bergstrom, principle analyst at Crystal Cube Consulting. "This is both a shallow and short-term view, and simply not true. Most vendors will keep their proprietary fabrics and backplanes until the architecture no longer scales to the required performance. The advent of ATCA may even shift the value proposition to the software domain where it belongs."

Cisco will be forced to jump on the AdvancedTCA bandwagon sooner or later when demand increases -- which it will, if recent market forecasts are to be believed. Indeed, RHK Inc. forecasts that the market for AdvancedTCA products will be worth $3.7 billion by 2007 (see ATCA to Be Worth $3.7B in 2007). Crystal Cube's forecast is more ambitious, predicting a market of $20 billion by 2007.

Cisco, for its part, says it is evaluating membership in PICMG. "Cisco subscribes to open standards interfaces leading to multi-vendor interoperability," the company wrote in an email to Light Reading. It declined to elaborate.

— Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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