The Advanced Telecommunications Architecture (ATCA) defines a next generation platform for high performance, fault-tolerant, scalable, telecommunications and computing equipment. It defines an open switch fabric based platform delivering an industry standard high performance, fault tolerant, and scalable solution for next generation telecommunications and data center equipment. The ATCA standard is expected to be finalized in mid 2002 and the development is being carried out within the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) - the same group that created the highly successful Compact PCI standard. The Advanced TCA 3.0 base specification defines the physical and electrical characteristics of an off the shelf, modular chassis based on switch fabric connections between hot swappable blades. The Advanced TCA base specification supports multiple fabric connections including InfiniBand technology as defined by the PICMG 3.2 sub specification.

What is the demand of the Next Generation Platforms?

High speed fiber, ATM, IP, and DSL broadband connections to data centers and central offices have increased the bandwidth requirements beyond a few gigabits/second that can be supported by shared bus architectures such as CompactPCI. Next generation platforms require aggregate bandwidth that can scale to 2.5 Terabits/second with individual interfaces supporting upwards of 40 gigabits/second. System availability requirements in excess of 99.999% remains a core requirement. Furthermore the broad range of interfaces and services required by such platforms greatly benefit from an open architecture enabling multi-vendor support with the ability to deliver on the promise of converged voice, data, server, storage, video, and wireless functions.

It is vital that the basic platform architecture is able to scale to meet these increasing demands for scalability, bandwidth, availability and performance. Delivering high availability and fault tolerance requires redundancy to be designed into every subsystem including the I/O chassis itself. Not surprisingly the shared bus architecture (originally designed as a local interconnect) is simply not capable of meeting these requirements. In order to overcome these limitations switch fabric architectures have emerged where each I/O input can make temporary connections to any of the I/O outputs. These connections are made through sophisticated switches which can offer advanced features including quality of service, flow control, integrated management, fault recovery, and scalability.

What are the advantages of InfiniBand technology?

The ATCA 3.0 base standard is fabric agnostic and supports various options for I/O fabrics including InfiniBand, Ethernet, and StarFabric technologies. While multiple fabrics are envisioned by the specification it is likely that InfiniBand technology will emerge as the dominant general purpose I/O fabric, while other technologies will address special purpose applications. This is mainly due to the four key advantages that InfiniBand offers over other technologies:

  1. Aggregation: 2.5Gb/s, 10Gb/s, and 30 Gb/s links compatible on the same backplane
  2. Hardware Transport: Eliminates the CPU burden of a software transport stack (i.e. TCP/IP)
  3. Low Latency: Round trip latencies in the microseconds
  4. I/O Sharing: Storage, WAN, and LAN interfaces can be shared across the fabric by all servers

These features and others make InfiniBand the ideal solution for next generation equipment as it delivers high performance, fault tolerance, quality of service, and transport level connections with the highest levels of integration available. The InfiniBand architecture greatly accelerates data movement and offload the CPU from transport processing. Powerful layer 2 features of the Infini-Band Architecture (such as virtual lanes and link level flow control) result in significant advantages over un-reliable link technologies which use dropped packets as a form of implicit congestion notification to higher software levels. Another powerful feature of the InfiniBand Architecture is Automatic Path Migration which enables the fabric to detect errors and fail-over to a pre-defined alternate path. This ability of the fabric to heal itself is particularly critical, where low latency fault recovery is important, such as in many applications supporting real time traffic (voice, video, etc).


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