Optical/IP Networks

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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edgecore 12/5/2012 | 2:14:05 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway A- If ATCA is showing a 3.7 B potential market, and Force is hot and heavy into this space...then why is Selectron so keen on selling Force?

B- Cisco has always developed custom software for custom hardware...not too sure why the need to talk about Cisco in the context of open standards!

sevenbrooks 12/5/2012 | 2:14:04 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway
Has apparently never sold anything to a large carrier.

I am surely going to bet my company's future on what they have to say.

Guys, the reason that people do proprietary architectures is that they can be sold at a lower price. So, depending on what you make you may or may not be able to use a ACTA (or cPCI or whatever) standard platform.

Lets use a little example. Lets see, Alcatel DSLAMs. Go make a DSLAM thats say $50/port out of an ACTA. Call me when you have done that.

Until then, these will be nice little niche fillers (just like all the versions before them - Telecom Bus as an example).

rtfm 12/5/2012 | 2:13:57 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway sevenbrooks:

I am trying to understand. Don't standards allow more components to compete, as well as higher volume? One only has to look at WiFi (witness Intel into telecom, overall) to see this.

If Alcatel can sell DSLAMs for $50/port, is that not because of volume and amortized development costs? How much is becuase of their architecture/technology?

I've just been a believer of standards for bringing down costs, so trying to learn. . .

particle_man 12/5/2012 | 2:13:57 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway That's an interesting point about the $50 DSLAM. I would think that the ATCA standard would be more suited for higher end elements. It's got all that high speed signal capacity on the backplane which would make it expensive for low speed applications.

You can definitely cut costs to some extent by specializing your hardware. You can also cut costs through standardizing on a high volume platform. The extreme example of course is the PC. I haven't done the math to estimate where the crossover point is but I think the open question is when ATCA will hit critical mass and create a compelling cost advantage.
fiberous 12/5/2012 | 2:13:54 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway "The idea behind the standard is that blades from one vendor could be incorporated into a chassis made by another vendor."

What a crock !!

Clueless people - wake up!!
particle_man 12/5/2012 | 2:13:53 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway Well, maybe a different way to look at it is one step up the food chain. Imagine that I was nuts enough to start a god-box company. From a purely hardware perspective, (I will conveniently ignore the software and protocol mapping nightmare to make my point :-) I could go to the emerging ATCA market and OEM the backplane, the 12 or more different interface blades, some processor cards, and a couple of switch fabric cards. This would give me a pile of development leverage and (if SW wasn't critical path) improve my time to market.

Would it be cheaper from a COGS point of view? It may be.
fiberous 12/5/2012 | 2:13:51 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway Particle,

Sure it would be cheaper in COGS because you
wont have any. Since, you wont be able to
sell any. Because the all dont go into
the chassis and sing a Xmas carol - mostly
they lokk back at us like a bunch of frogs
ina pond.

Look, these days most system companies have a
hard time getting their HW guys to work with
their SW guys to come out with things in time.
Imagine 15 HW teams, each from different
companies and SW from another, NMS/OSS
from another - all this go into the funnel and
and becomes rocket fuel.

glasstotheass 12/5/2012 | 2:13:44 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway
I work for a major telecom systems vendor. My view is that the real problem of "shifting the value proposition to the software domain where it belongs" is that that's not how our customers think. They want to pay for hardware ("how much does it cost me for N ports?") and not for software upgrades.

Our SW/HW engineer ratio is nearing 5:1, yet our customers won't pay for code upgrades. Supposedly, this is the case with most other vendors as well.

Does anyone know if there's movement in the industry to correct this imbalance? Things like TCA won't take off until it does.

Does Cisco charge for SW upgrades to 6500 series routers, or do they always manage to pacage a new HW card along with it?


opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 2:13:42 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway "Does Cisco charge for SW upgrades to 6500 series routers, or do they always manage to pacage a new HW card along with it?"

Yes, it's called a yearly "maintenance" charge. If you don't pay, you don't get the new software.
sevenbrooks 12/5/2012 | 2:13:37 AM
re: AdvancedTCA Makes Headway

Think of it this way. Silicon costs in any moderate kind of volumes are somewhat fixed: i.e. a 1.5M gate, .18u chip cost is about the same whether you make it or somebody else makes it. If somebody else makes it they amortize their NRE and then add their margin to the cost. If you build it then you amortize the margin only.

Every time there is a layer (chips, modules, boards, systems) added to this one ends up in margin stacking. So, that means you are paying the gross margin for each layer.

Now lots of DSL makers can make DSLAMs at $50 per port and thats because there is a merchant market for the silicon (although its not directly replaceable) and people have spent money in creating low cost architectures.

Standards are fine things taken in moderation. Its impossible for 1 standard to do all things or to do anything than its direct intent efficiently. So then you end up with the other problem of a 10 Gb/s system for a 1 Mb/s problem. The cost mismatch kills you.

Lets go to the PC version of this. Now in the old days (by cracky) the software to do e-mail, word processing, and spread sheets could run on a 10Mbyte HDD and 256K of codespace. Suppose one built a system that was optimized to do that job today. Could we build it for $100? So, why do we pay $1500 - $2000 for Admin PCs? The software has gotten out of hand and requires the $1500 infrastructure to do the $100 job. So, to me the PC has always been the model of inefficiency.

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