Military Embedded Systems

Understanding the Importance of OpenVPX in Military Computing


May 19, 2023

Dan Taylor

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Understanding the Importance of OpenVPX in Military Computing

In the unique and demanding world of military computing, OpenVPX has emerged as a pivotal technology. Its origins lie in VPX (VITA 46), a groundbreaking open architecture computer standard designed to accelerate the flow of data in embedded systems.

As the evolution of VPX, OpenVPX (VITA 65) takes this technology to the next level, providing a platform for robust, scalable, and interoperable computing systems. This article delves into the heart of OpenVPX, exploring its development and the essential role it plays in today's military computing landscape.

Further reading:

The Evolution of OpenVPX

To fully grasp the significance of OpenVPX, it's essential to understand its evolutionary journey. The story begins with the VPX standard, also known as VITA 46. This standard was revolutionary, setting the stage for an entirely new breed of high-performance computing systems specifically designed to meet the demanding requirements of military environments.

However, as technology advanced and the need for more interoperable systems grew, the limitations of the initial VPX standard became evident. Systems often relied on a single source for components, creating vendor lock-in and stifling the potential for innovation and flexibility.

To address these challenges, the OpenVPX standard, or VITA 65, was developed. This was not a departure from VPX, but rather a significant enhancement. Built on the foundational VITA 46 architecture, OpenVPX brought much-needed openness to the VPX ecosystem, supporting a broad array of vendor components and facilitating interoperability.

The Core Benefits of OpenVPX in Military Computing

OpenVPX offers a number of vital benefits to military computing, making it an invaluable asset in modern defense technology.

  • High-Performance Computing Capabilities: OpenVPX leverages cutting-edge fabric technologies such as ethernet, RapidIO, and InfinniBand to deliver exceptional data transfer rates. This high-performance computing power is crucial in military applications, where data processing speed can make the difference in mission-critical operations.

  • Robustness and Reliability in Harsh Environments: Military systems must operate in some of the world's most challenging environments. From the heat and dust of desert terrains to the cold and vibration of airborne deployments, these systems must consistently perform under extreme conditions. OpenVPX's rugged design and robustness make it well-suited to these demanding settings, ensuring reliable performance regardless of environmental challenges.

  • Scalability and Flexibility: OpenVPX's open architecture allows for tremendous scalability and flexibility. This means that as military computing requirements evolve, systems can be upgraded or modified without having to be completely replaced. This not only saves time and resources, but it also ensures that military systems can remain at the forefront of technology.

The combination of these benefits makes OpenVPX a compelling solution for the increasingly complex and challenging world of military computing. In the following sections, we will explore in more detail how OpenVPX enables interoperability, facilitates the emergence of commercial off-the-shelf products, aligns with defense industry standards, and supports a broad array of military applications.

The Role of OpenVPX in Interoperability

Interoperability - the ability for different systems and devices to communicate and work seamlessly with one another - is an essential feature in military computing. In a field that relies heavily on rapid and effective information exchange, it's crucial that components from different vendors can be integrated without compatibility issues. This is where OpenVPX shines.

OpenVPX's open architecture provides standardized mechanical and electrical interfaces that allow different components to interact smoothly. Because of this, military computing systems can now include best-of-breed components from a variety of vendors, rather than being restricted to a single-source supplier. This not only fosters competition and innovation but also ensures that the most suitable and effective components can be used for each specific application.

OpenVPX and the Emergence of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) Products

Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) products have brought about a paradigm shift in the military computing world. These products, which are readily available and can be used 'as is', offer a host of advantages over custom-made solutions, including reduced cost, shorter lead times, and access to advanced technology. OpenVPX has played a crucial role in promoting the use of COTS products in military settings.

By establishing an open standard that encourages vendor diversity and interoperability, OpenVPX has paved the way for a wider adoption of COTS products. Military developers can now choose from a larger pool of suppliers, picking out components that best fit their requirements without worrying about compatibility issues. The result is a more efficient, flexible, and cost-effective approach to designing and upgrading military computing systems.

OpenVPX's Alignment with Defense Industry Standards

The Department of Defense (DoD) has long emphasized the need for modular open system architecture in military systems. This approach allows for components to be swapped out and upgraded as needed, rather than replacing entire systems when technology advancements occur. OpenVPX aligns perfectly with this approach, providing the framework for creating highly modular and scalable systems.

Furthermore, OpenVPX is a key part of the Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) standard. SOSA is an initiative that aims to develop open system architecture standards for military sensor systems. By aligning with the SOSA standard, OpenVPX enables greater compatibility, reusability, and interoperability within these systems, reinforcing its vital role in the future of military computing.

OpenVPX Applications in Military Computing

The flexibility, high-performance computing capabilities, and robustness of OpenVPX have made it a go-to choice for a multitude of military applications. These applications extend across the defense spectrum, from command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems to electronic warfare and signals intelligence (SIGINT).

Notably, OpenVPX finds significant use in Single Board Computers (SBCs), switches, backplanes, and chassis, where its advantages can be fully leveraged. Moreover, it plays a pivotal role in crafting compact and efficient I/O (input/output) boards and graphics modules, offering enhanced capabilities within a smaller footprint. This is particularly valuable in the development of space-limited airborne and ground vehicle systems.

The Future of OpenVPX

OpenVPX is not a static standard. Instead, it's a dynamic, evolving platform that continuously adapts to the changing needs and advancements in the defense industry. As military demands and technology continue to evolve, so too will OpenVPX, ensuring it remains a relevant and powerful force in military computing.

The future may see the development of new profiles or the evolution of existing ones to accommodate emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced data processing. Furthermore, OpenVPX is likely to remain central to the ongoing push toward more modular and interoperable defense systems.

OpenVPX’s role in fostering interoperability, promoting the use of COTS products, and aligning with defense industry standards has revolutionized the way military computing systems are designed and implemented. With its firm role in the present and its evolution toward the future, OpenVPX will undoubtedly continue to play a significant role in shaping the trajectory of military computing.