Military Embedded Systems

An open standard is not an ecosystem


March 29, 2012

Jay Swenson

Abaco Systems

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. For nearly three decades, we have witnessed the evolution of the open systems COTS market as it has grown and changed. I look at that time in three phases of maturity: convergence, specialization, and more recently divergence. We need to credit the VMEbus and all those who labored over it with providing a model that demonstrated that there could be a common architecture that allowed interoperability across multiple vendors.

Although far from perfect, there has been an ecosystem surrounding that architecture. There clearly was a convergence< upon VMEbus across applications and even vertical segments.

Over time, we saw specialization where features were added to VMEbus, and other buses like CompactPCI and AdvancedTCA emerged. Each new specification and addendum helped solve a new challenge, usually catering to a narrower application space or vertical market need. Now we had multiple ecosystems, smaller in some cases, but still ecosystems of multiple vendors.

Presently we are beginning to see so much specialization that solutions are becoming divergent. We have many choices of high-speed interconnect on all of these buses, more user-defined pins, more optional implementations. In some cases, only one or two vendors support a particular feature or option. That’s no longer an ecosystem. Nowhere is this more true than in VPX although OpenVPX has cleaned up how that architecture is specified. Still, with all the permutations of different profiles available in OpenVPX, there are now lots of little OpenVPX ecosystems. But, we really cannot call them ecosystems anymore. We have given end users a way to clearly specify solutions very targeted at their needs, but have given up much of the concept of an ecosystem of independent suppliers in the process.

This is not all bad; it is just the natural evolution of COTS electronics based on open standards. Today, military contractors can get higher performance, and more targeted systems off the shelf than ever before. The key word there is systems. As the ecosystem has fragmented, many vendors in this market have moved up the value chain to drive their own interoperability and offer pre-configured box-level solutions that offer higher TRL and reduce development time and program risk for customers. This trend is likely to continue and usher in the next phase of COTS electronics; one with more sub-system level products and more products designed specifically for a targeted program.


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