The Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA® or ATCA®) is a series of open standard computing platform specifications originally ratified in 2002 to meet the needs of carrier grade communications equipment, primarily for core network telecommunications applications. In the 11 years since ATCA products first appeared on the market, there have been numerous advances in the governing standard, the products available, and the products and applications that are driving its adoption and growth.
The most commonly deployed payload blades are high-performance Intel® Xeon® processor blades, used traditionally for control plane applications, but increasingly used in the packet data path. However, one of the biggest differentiators between ATCA systems and other bladed computing systems is the availability of payload blades with technologies other than Intel Xeon. These include media processing blades with digital signal processors (DSP), and packet processing blades with specialized network processors such as the Cavium™ OCTEON™ II or the Broadcom XLR.
The combination of high-availability architecture, I/O and backplane bandwidth, and a choice of available technologies has made ATCA systems particularly well suited for a large set of telecommunications network applications including radio access network control, core network, and data path equipment.
The unprecedented explosion in network traffic, fueled by smart mobile devices, and online content such as streaming video, has stressed existing telecommunications networks. Carriers have been forced to react by expanding their network capacity.
The fundamental problem facing these carriers, however, is that their revenue is not growing at the same rate. In general, the Average Revenue per User (ARPU) is fairly flat, meaning that, in order to remain profitable, carriers must look for innovative ways to manage their networks other than by simply scaling their existing infrastructure.
ATCA systems are particularly well suited to be used as a platform for such innovative new applications because they uniquely combine the following features:
• High-bandwidth fabrics (40G Ethernet)
• High-performance payload blades optimized for packet processing applications rather than traditional server applications
• High-capacity digital signal processing blades for voice and video optimization.
Two particular areas of focus are network intelligence applications with deep packet inspection (DPI), and mobile data optimization.
In order to remain competitive and profitable, telecommunications carriers cannot be restricted to simply delivering packets over a dumb pipe network. Rather, carriers are looking to introduce systems that gather intelligence regarding the specific nature of the traffic carried by their networks. This intelligence allows carriers to make decisions about delivering that data more efficiently, and allows them to provide differentiated service offerings that improve the experience of users.
Network intelligence applications generally require DPI. In a traditional IP network, network equipment only looks at a packet header, which includes information required to route a packet from the source to the destination. No specific attention is paid to the content of the packet. With DPI, the equipment looks much deeper into the packet, separating the traffic into flows. Each flow represents the packets sent from source to destination for a particular session, and can be further classified by protocol and specific application, often with intermediate tunnels that may or may not be encrypted.