Bus & Board 2007: Speakers address VMEbus trends, needs, new technologies

By Control Engineering Staff February 8, 2007

Bus & Board 2007 , which focuses on interconnect technologies including VMEbus, CompactPCI, motherboards, and other products for embedded applications, celebrated the 25th anniversary of VMEbus talking about new technologies. The slow but continuing growth of the platform will depend increasingly on switch fabrics, high-speed serial interconnects, and other technologies, according to Ray Alderman, executive director of VITA . Quick and deep adoption of standards will also help, he added.

Alderman suggested that another necessary move for VMEbus will be to move to optical I/O technology, an existing option that finally may be accepted because it offers superior speed, noise immunity, and an ability to go long distances. Speaking at the opening of Bus & Board 2007, he showed a connector that combines a VME backplane interface with an optical path, and suggested that something similar might be the way to go in the future—despite the fact that the connector he was showing was more than a decade old.

In the event’s keynote address, Daniel Hoste, president and CEO of Tundra Semiconductor , cited a survey that found that customers want increased performance, lower prices, security of supply, reduced size, reduced cost per unit, and environmental friendliness. Only new technology, he said, can provide all these, and yet uncoordinated calendars of standards/technology changes like RoHS, ENIG, and WEE further fragment the market. Widely-accepted standards are essential for delivering the volumes needed, he said.

Although VME is still very useful, Hoste added, a serial interconnect is needed for higher performance. In 1999, it was 64-bit VMEbus; in 2001 came 2e VMEbus, then the VME 2eSST protocol in 2004, followed by VXS and VPS. There are now multiple choices for serial interconnects, he said: Infiniband, PCI Express, Ethernet, and RapidIO. Hoste then made a case for RapidIO. The topic was revisited that day by Tom Cox, executive director of the RapidIO Trade Association, who stressed its value for critical embedded systems. Critical embedded systems are defined as life-critical or safety-critical systems whose failure or malfunction may result in death or serious injury to people, loss or severe damage to equipment, or environmental harm. Not just military, they can be found in medical, aerospace, critical infrastructure, and industrial applications.

One area of constant concern in bus and board engineering is increasing power dissipation and ever-greater cooling requirements. A number of companies showed innovative cooling methods worthy of consideration, but Peter Bannon, VP of architecture and verification at P.A. Semi , suggested another approach: use less power. He pointed out that since power dissipation increases exponentially with performance, a slight sacrifice in raw performance can save great quantities of power. He then described his company’s PWRficient Platform Processors, available later this year, which use multiple power-reduction techniques to create a system that uses 25% of the power of conventional designs.

Other trends include the use of field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to do jobs that previously would have been done by CPUs. Paul Zorfass of Venture Development Corp . cited the increased use of chips like FPGAs, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) in complex electronic devices for civil and military avionics applications. This trend is borne out by the introduction of products by VMETRO, Pentek, and Mercury Computer Systems, as well as other products that use FPGAs in somewhat more traditional roles.

Peter Cleaveland , contributing editor, Control Engineering