Robin Kent Issue: EMEA 2011
Article no.: 9
Topic: Challenging ATCA in the telecoms market
Author: Robin Kent
Title: Director of European Operations
Organisation: Adax Europe
PDF size: 262KB

About author

Robin Kent is Director of European Operations at Adax Europe. For many years, Robin held senior positions within established equipment manufacturers, software houses and integrators in the telecom, wide area network and office automation markets. He joined Adax in 1994 to establish the Adax business unit in Europe. He has overseen the company’s successful transition from an OEM technology supplier to a customer focused provider of high quality, high performance telecommunications products to network equipment providers and VAS companies throughout EMEA and India.
Adax has over 25 years’ experience in distributed signalling solutions. The transition of telecom’s core infrastructure is well underway and Adax is using that experience to meet the demands of data-plane and control-plane services in the converging network marketplace.

Article abstract

ATCA is a specification of a processing platform for telecom carriers. ATCA based platforms are now getting installed where high performance is required to run the high volume video traffic and new communication services. ATCA provides easy component migration and flexible system deployment. However, carriers still need flexible, expandable, high density I/O capability at a reasonable cost per link. To achieve this, remote device I/O control software and intelligent carrier blades can be used to build an effective ATCA based I/O subsystem

Full Article

Historically, Telecom Equipment Manufacturers (TEMs) have developed proprietary hardware and software to achieve high levels of I/O capacity and high service levels. However, proprietary platforms are expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Meanwhile, the explosion in network traffic as a result of 3G and now 4G/LTE for web browsing and IPTV means that network operators are constantly demanding more capacity at lower prices. In fact, a recent report from SNL Kagan has predicted that Western Europe will continue to lead the world in terms of IPTV subscriptions, reaching 26.7 million households by 2014.
The Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (Advanced TCA) specifications from the PICMG organisation (PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group) are designed to provide the telecommunications industry worldwide with flexible, scalable, highly-reliable, platform architecture to meet the demands of carrier grade telecommunications equipment for Next Generation networks. PICMG states: “This series of specifications incorporates the latest trends in high speed interconnect technologies, next generation processors and improved reliability, manageability and serviceability”.
ATCA incorporates hot swappable blades and AMC (Advanced Mezzanine Cards) in a single chassis, interconnected by a switch fabric that enables TEMs to develop multiple network elements on a single platform. According to VDC (2010 VDC Research Group, Inc. Embedded Hardware & Systems Practice), “ATCA has now reached a level of maturity that it is now the architecture of choice in nearly all new communications designs”.
UK based analyst, Simon Stanley at Heavy Reading also confirms in his latest Market Update Report that “The ATCA market is seeing significant growth, as carriers continue to roll out new systems and IP-based infrastructure”. Stanley goes on to state that “IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), LTE, and Evolved Packet Core (EPC) systems based on ATCA are now being used for trials and network deployment” which is driving ATCA market growth in the EMEA region.
Many of the initial promises of ATCA are now being realised throughout Europe and the substantial ecosystem for ATCA means that TEMs can build new systems faster and more cost-effectively, particularly once they have mastered the initial learning curve. They can also port applications from one system to another much more easily. The end result is that they can respond to carrier needs in a rapidly changing and largely unpredictable market by providing new equipment quickly while still maintaining existing revenue sources.
Many of these systems require large scale I/O resources and the challenge is how to deliver them in a cost effective manner. The way to do this is via an ATCA I/O subsystem but such an I/O subsystem must be flexible, scalable, and redundant, all the while meeting ever demanding industry price points as the cost per link becomes critical.

In Europe alone, the estimated traffic growth is 40 per cent annually and this rapid increase is driving the 4G ALL-IP network. The major challenge in the transition to these next generation networks is the provisioning of flexible and efficient signalling and transport interfaces between new equipment and the existing infrastructure. The focus on data services means legacy voice and SS7 signalling services will remain in the field much longer than anticipated and modern high-density legacy solutions are an absolute requirement for next generation network nodes. This heterogeneous network needs compatibility and interoperability with support for multiple deployment scenarios.

Network Service Providers across Europe are making the migration to LTE, but the All-IP network will be a while in the making. Legacy connectivity for voice and SMS remains an absolute necessity for Next Generation Mobile Network nodes connecting IP-based or IP-enabled Media Gateways, Signalling Transfer Points, switches, databases and other Next Generation Mobile applications with legacy circuit switched architecture. The requirement to interconnect different networks demands multi-protocol solutions that combine and connect divergent circuit and packet switching architectures. Progressively, the new technologies are replacing expensive dedicated SS7 and ATM circuits with more cost effective IP links.
It is a key requirement to deliver I/O scalability at a viable price point while retaining direct access to host processing power. As ATCA blades have limited, and in some case no, AMC (Advanced Mezzanine Cards) bays, these options are insufficient for high-density, multi-purpose I/O applications. This means that I/O resources must be expandable from one to many ATCA blades and AMC cards with minimal overheads. However, this can only be effectively achieved if an application is allowed to control remote AMC devices as if they were local to the host processor.
The problem with this solution is still one of density because of the limited number of AMC bays. Therefore, whilst ATCA Blades can provide I/O scalability, the issue remains that high-density I/O configurations can still be cost-prohibitive. At the opposite end of the link scalability problem, the large numbers of revenue earning applications in today’s networks has led to an inversion of the traditional I/O resource pyramid. Instead of a few applications sharing many resources, the increases in link density in I/O cards now means that multiple applications can share the same resources. For this to work correctly, a client/server architecture is required that allows an application to control and utilise remote devices as if they were local to the host processor. The overhead on the host processor must be minimized so that I/O can be expanded and distributed over many protocol controller cards.
To be successful, distributed signalling solutions need the host processor applications to be able to access I/O resources located throughout the ATCA system, both locally on the server blade and on remote carrier blades. To achieve this, the I/O subsystem needs remote device control software to effectively link the I/O resources wherever they are located in the ATCA system and intelligence is required on the carrier blade to run such an application.
The remote device control software needs to deliver I/O scalability while retaining direct access to host processing power. This allows an application to control and utilise remote AMC devices as if they were local to the host processor. This is hard to achieve with carrier blades that traditionally don’t have any in-built intelligence and therefore are not able to run the device control software. Therefore that intelligence has to be provided by sacrificing one of the AMC bays, which is taken up by a Processor AMC card. This adds to the cost and increases the complexity of the solution. The perfect solution is a carrier blade with on-board intelligence to run the device control software at the same time having sufficient power and thermal management to enable all AMC bays to be used simultaneously.
High-Availability is inherent in the ATCA design and hot-swappable components with IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) control ensure uninterrupted service but link reliability adds a new layer of complexity to I/O scalability and this must also be a part of any successful ATCA I/O subsystem.
For network service providers who need I/O scalability as well as high levels of availability, it is vital to look for a solution that will allow multiple applications to share remote resources and this requires not just a good software solution but also the blades to run it on. ATCA carrier cards provide applications access to I/O resources regardless of where they are in the ATCA chassis. By adding extra ATCA carrier cards, I/O is then completely scalable as additional I/O connections and additional capacity are achieved by populating another ATCA carrier card in the chassis. Overall, the flexible architecture fulfils ATCA’s promise of horizontal expansion. In a redundantly designed system, cards and blades may be added, removed and re-located with virtually no loss of service and operators will be able to retain the value of their initial investment well into the future.
ATCA has everything that is needed for the next generation of “carrier grade” communications equipment. By combining the right remote device I/O control software and intelligent carrier blades it is possible to build an effective I/O subsystem that meets the challenges of ATCA. It will also deliver on its promise of being a highly scalable, reliable and cost effective system.

In April 2011, it was reported at ATCA World that Nokia Siemens Networks’ ATCA mobile softswitch has delivered seven times more capacity compared to legacy proprietary platforms, and has reduced power consumption by 70 per cent.

With benefits such as ease of migration and I/O density, the data and control-plane sub systems built on intelligent ATCA carrier cards are seen as a way to provide the critical services needed for high speed packet processing for Europe’s Next Generation Mobile Networks.