25 years of VME technology

Paul Boughton

October 2006 saw the 25th anniversary of VME as the most pervasive electronics technology in history, and the VME community is extending its standards with a wide range of capabilities.
Back in 1981, Motorola, Mostek, Signetics/ Phillips, and Thomson CSF officially introduced the VMEbus at the Systems ’81 show in Munich.
After 25 years, there are still new standards being developed, and the board market is undergoing a significant consolidation. Companies such as SBS Technologies and Radstone Technology are being combined by GE Fanuc to take on companies such as Motorola’s Embedded Computing Communications operation.
“The co-operative nature of VMEbus vendors during the introduction of this bus architecture to the military market demonstrated just how powerful and beneficial a truly cooperative effort could be,” said Doug Patterson, on the VITA VME standards board of directors and Vice President for international sales and marketing at board maker Aitech. “Early adopters of VME for the military, including Aitech and Radstone Technology and through the efforts of people like Kim Clohessy of Dy4 Systems, literally changed and created a market that served not only the industry, but the military as well.”
“The perseverance of VMEbus is no surprise,” added Jim Berlin Global Technology Leader at GE Fanuc. “In the face of so many would-be usurpers it continues to get the job done with the steady reliability it has earned through its maturity. GE Fanuc Embedded Systems has been built from many smaller companies, most of which had invested in VME and continue to share in its success. We continue to develop new products that take advantage of this trusted technology as it addresses the needs of our customers today.”

New standards

The first boards for the new VITA46 VPX standard, which adds large amounts of high speed switching to VME-based systems, were launched last year and are now making their way into designs. This is a step forward from the VXS (VITA41) switching boards, which use the P0 connectors in the middle of the standard VME connector to add a switch fabric such as Ethernet, RapidIO or Infiniband. While that means the VXS boards are backwards compatible with existing VME64 backplanes, they are these are limited in the number of connections.
Instead, VPX has a new connector definition to allow for larger switch fabrics.Nevertheless, several companies including Mercury Computer Systems and ACT Technico have developed VXS systems, and the long awaited last element – the switch card – emerged during the year to make the most of uch systems. Mercury has ended up developing its own switch chip for its VXS board, creating the first multi-computer system on VXS. The Mercury Computer Systems was founded in 1981; the same year that VME made its first appearance on the embedded scene” said Eran Cohen StrodVITA board member and Director of product marketing at Mercury Computer Systems.
“In the past quarter centurywe have had the privilege to see modularopen-standard backplane architectures transform the world of military and industrial embedded computing. Mercury continues to look to VITA to address distributed sensor processing and computing-on-the-moveeven as ruggednext generation VME solutions share IO interconnectssystem fabricsindustry standard processors and open standard software with more ‘benign’ form factor architectures.”
The Mercury PowerStream6100 sets a new record for performance available in the VME form factor with 761GFLOPS and 42 GB/s sustained fabric throughput with dual PowerPC processors for.
On the other handthe new VPX standard allows all the connectors on the VME board to be used for switch fabricand so is not backwards compatible with VXS and legacy VME cards. Howeverthat is not so much of an issuesay system makersas production systems are almost always custom built. Backplane supplier Elma Bustronic has already demonstrated a custom backplane that combines VME slots with VPX slots that could be used in a single 6U chassis.
SimilarlyMercury’s conduction cooled716GFLOPSPowerPC-based PowerStream6600 is based on VPX standardand is built using open and de facto standards: the Linux and VxWorks operating systemsInternet Protocol (IP)VPX-REDIPMC-X/XMCEthernetand the RapidIO interconnect fabric.
Curtiss Wright Embedded Computing (CWEC)despite having developed a VXS boardis now aiming to develop only VPX boards going forwards. The flexibility and performance of the technology allows higher performance systems in 3U racks to compete with AMC and compactPCI systemssays the companywhile being completely compatible with larger 6U systems.
But there are still some doubters. Thales Computer Systems did not launch a VXS system in 2006and says it is still too early for VPX technology.

Switch fabric

The fabric technologies that run on the VME backplane also continue to developwith RapidIO expanding its reach through its trade organisation.
Having the serial RapidIO interface on digital signal processors from Freescale Semiconductor and Texas Instruments is helping to build the ecosystem of devices where it comes ‘for free’and the two companies have worked with Tundra Semiconductor and Xilinx for interoperability based on the RapidIO Interconnect Specification Device Interoperability and Compliance Checklists 1.3 Specification.
“We are moving onto the OEMs rather than the ecosystem now” said Tom Coxdirector of the RapidIO trade association. “That means we are going to the product stage. In military electronics we are working with people who are not members of the trade associationsuch as BAe Systems and with universities to drive the development” he said.
The early traction of wireless infrastructure means that RapidIO is more established in Europe. “Europe is probably 6 to 8 months ahead of the USnot just in wireless infrastructure but in industrial computing as well” he said.
The performance of key portions of signals intelligence and radar applications today are limited by fabric throughput capabilityas sampling rates continue to increase in data acquisition devices. The addition of Serial RapidIO to the VME platform can nearly quadruple the amount of bandwidth that can be sampled by signals intelligence systems when compared to Mercury current RACE++ fabric-enabled VME systems.
And serialRapidIO is not the only switch fabric. Ethernet and Infiniband are both supported by major players such as Motorola ECC and SBS Technologies respectivelyand new point to point technologies such as Aurorafound natively in Xilinx FPGAsare also being standardised in the VITA55 group.
The embedded board business of UK defence group Qinetixnow part of US company TEKmicrois backing the VITA55 standard that will use the Aurora protocol as a standard way of connecting devicesparticularly creating a ‘mesh’ of processors in a VME rack. TEKmicro’s new Jazz system uses the technologyand the group has developed a prototype mesh system with backplane maker Elma Bustronic.
Aurora tends to be a point to point protocol rather than a bus or switch fabric technologybut being the native protocol for Xilinx FPGAs doesn’t need us interface or translation chips and has a good latency. It can also be used in other VITA standards such as VXS and VPX as the interconnect protocol.
SBS Technologiesnow part of GE Fanuc Embedded Systemssees the add-onmezzanine I/O cards becoming a volume market.
“Our strategy is to get the building blocks out there through every possible channel” said Rubin Dhillonvice president of the communications division at SBS. “The strategy is to volumise. We are actively taking it there rather than avoiding it. We are building an organisation for low costshigh volume so that we can stay in business.”
GE Fanuc Embedded Systemspart of the GE Fanuc Automation joint venture between GE and FANUC of Japanis also building up its military and defence business through the £130m acquisition of UK-based Radstone Technology that will also boost Radstone’ s moves into the industrial market in Europe.
“Radstone is known as a strategic supplier in the defense industry. Together we will have ability to provide a higher level of service to this segment” said Maryrose Sylvesterpresident and CEO of GE Fanuc. “Radstone also brings valuable technical capabilitiesexpertise and industry knowledge. We are very excited about this acquisition as both companies share similar values around qualityservice and reliabilityinnovation and operational excellence.”
Radstone has also signed a deal with RST Industrie Automation in Germany to supply hardware that will run the LynuxWorks real time Linux and RST’s Gamma COTS (commercial off the shelf) open architecture middleware to develop complete customer solutions in GermanySwitzerland and Austria.
GE Fanuc last year acquired SBS Technologieswhich was another mil/aero equipment maker that was aiming at industrial as well.
VME is one of the most pervasive embedded technologies in the worldand to celebrate 25 years is a dramatic achievementdriven on by new developments and new standards.


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