Whatever your perspective, ATCA300 can help

Oct. 1, 2007

by Niall Robinson

Open industry standards have brought tremendous value to the telecommunications industry. For optical networking, the definition of the ITU DWDM wavelength grid enabled the cost curve of multiple DWDM technologies and systems to improve significantly. In the cable industry, the introduction of the Data over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), which defines interface requirements for cable modems involved in high-speed data distribution over cable TV networks, launched the consumer broadband revolution. There is also a long history of industry-driven standardization of optical module physical form factors with recent multisource agreement (MSA) examples such as 14-pin butterfly laser packages, integrated tunable laser assemblies, 300-pin transceivers, and SFP and XFP pluggable optics.

An industry standard that defined a new MSA at the blade level was launched in late 2002. AdvancedTCA (or ATCA) has grown from a single chassis on display at SUPERCOMM 2004 to become the platform of choice for many products in the IP multimedia system (IMS), wireless, and WiMAX industries. The standard defines the physical properties of the card cage, the chassis management structure, backplane connectivity, and pin-outs along with power consumption, cooling, and electromagnetic emission properties.

In 2005 several companies examined the ATCA specification and recognized that, with limited changes, the specification could be adopted to fit the requirements of the telecom transport industry. Now known as AdvancedTCA300 (or ATCA300), this specification is now entering the transport space with several companies featuring transport system products including ATCA300 on their product development roadmaps.

Figure 1 shows a cross-section of an ATCA300 chassis. The main chassis supports 300-mm ETSI cabinet deployment as well as 12-inch NEBS frame requirements. The main PCB has three backplane connector zones:

  • Zone 1 provides -48 V.
  • Zone 2 provides the dataplane connectivity between application cards.
  • Zone 3 provides additional dataplane throughput capability or connectivity to a subtending chassis via Zone 4.
  • Zone 4 provides connectivity from the front transition module (FTM) to the main chassis to enable additional I/O expansion per main board slot.
Figure 1. The ATCA300 standard seeks to specify a 300-mm compatible open platform chassis. Capacity expansion of the main shelf is achieved via the FTM. Smaller than the main front board, the FTM is only 160 mm deep, which allows for additional cabling plenum to handle significant I/O capability.

ATCA300 also supports the popular ATCA mezzanine card (AMC) with capability for up to six half-height AMCs or three full-height AMCs. AMCs present a substantial level of modularity that enables the deployment of the lowest initial cost profile for any application. AMCs have led to the popularity of the MicroTCA chassis implementation, which defines a card cage where the AMCs plug directly into the chassis backplane.

Introduction of an industry standard such as ATCA300 has implications at all levels of the telecommunications equipment supply chain, from end users to component suppliers.

Operators have tried to encourage the transport industry to standardize on a single equipment practice for several years. A multivendor initiative would drive operating efficiencies, reduce vendor and operator costs, enable future interoperability innovation using existing forum standards, and provide direction when enhancements are needed and new standards are being developed.

A common physical platform available from multiple network equipment suppliers brings significant benefits to network operators. The business benefits are clear: the ability to deploy best-in-class platforms with timely delivery of new architectures, new services, and increased bandwidth.

Significant benefits also arise from an operations viewpoint. The use of consistent hardware and software architectures across multiple vendors and products simplifies network operations, leading to cost reductions. Commonality in equipment training, fault handling and monitoring, airflow requirements, and facility resource requirements are just a few of the many operational benefits. An attractive value proposition to network planners is the ability to make upgrades to deliver better performance and more features in a focused and gradual manner instead of having to resort to “forklift” upgrades where entire network platforms are decommissioned because they are out of date.

Open platform approaches such as ATCA300 contribute to a reduction in network element life cycle costs (see Fig. 2), including the cost of spares and replacement parts.

Common equipment standardization allows equipment manufacturers to concentrate R&D efforts and expenditures on advances in their areas of expertise and to avoid the dilution of resources on the design and management of the common equipment.

The ATCA300 chassis is ideal for optical transport systems manufacturers. The standard readily aligns itself with the current equipment practice in which DWDM transmission modules are self-contained functional entities with no requirements for customer traffic to ingress or egress the backplane. OEMs can concentrate on technology and product differentiation by designing customized line modules, software, and system-level network management for specific applications; the standardized ATCA300 chassis provides building blocks for the mechanical structure, power entry modules, thermal management, backplane, and shelf controller as well as the architecture for the management of line modules via the backplane with the shelf controller.
Figure 2. ATCA300 can reduce costs throughout the equipment life cycle for developers and users.

Use of ATCA300 accelerates product development and allows the common equipment to be sourced from commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) suppliers. It also can reduce qualification and regulatory approval costs, since the common equipment may already be tested and qualified.

Further advantages ATCA300 standardization provides include the significant reductions in expense and time required to address diverse markets that need different chassis designs. The standard dimensions and management of line modules are independent of the shelf form factor. Without additional effort, equipment manufacturers may easily address datacom markets that require a 19-inch shelf with the same modules as those used for telecom markets that require an ETSI or US telco standard shelf; this lowers overall development costs significantly.

Much as MSAs at the component and module levels have lowered the cost of SFP/XFP pluggable optics, the ATCA300 standard has similar potential for lowering the cost of telecom equipment. Not only is the cost of development lowered, since design resources are not allocated to the design of common equipment, but the overall cost of common equipment is also lowered because many manufacturers will be producing such equipment to the same specification.

Many of today’s component and subsystem companies already offer custom line-card services to customers whereby they develop specific blade implementations that plug directly into the customers’ chassis. With no two chassis implementations alike (sometimes from different product lines within the same customer’s portfolio!) it’s difficult to generate cost synergies across different customers. This compares to an open standard platform where component supply, manufacturing lines, and test facilities can be shared across multiple customers.

Although a standard takes time to win acceptance and be fully adopted, momentum is gaining for the ATCA300 standard especially as the specification reaches the final stages of formal adoption within PICMG. There are clear advantages for all companies involved in the development, deployment and operation of telecom transport equipment by utilizing ATCA (see Fig. 3).
Figure 3. The use of ATCA300 technology benefits manufacturers and users of optical communications transport equipment.

The benefits of the open standard are clear, enabling technological competition without the complexities of form factor and management interface limitations. Bringing economies of scale to the transport industry, a market segment with a prolific number of proprietary chassis implementations, will provide long-term benefits at all levels of the equipment development and manufacturing food chain. For end users and their customers, the improvements in network operating efficiencies and the ability to rapidly bring new applications to the telecom consumer will benefit the telecom industry as a whole.

Niall Robinson is vice president, marketing, at Mintera Corp. (www.mintera.com). He can be reached at [email protected].

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