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The primary use cases for deep packet inspection (DPI) can be grouped into classes of applications with similar requirements.
Once packet flows are identified, there is an opportunity to manipulate them to optimize content delivery. Video traffic represents a large and growing percentage of network traffic growth, and there is a class of network systems that must manipulate that data in the network to either accommodate different end user devices, or to mix the video streams for applications such as video conferencing or targeted advertising insertion.

Voice traffic is also traditionally manipulated in the network. Various standards exist to encode voice traffic, based on requirements for bit rate, latency and quality. At the border between voice networks, in elements such as session border controllers (SBCs) and media gateways, these voice streams are typically transcoded between these different codecs using specialized hardware employing DSPs.

The need for in-network voice and video transcode functions is another strong driver for ATCA systems due to the availability of specialized DSP blades, employing technologies from companies such as Texas Instruments and Octasic.

Beyond Telecom

Although conceived and developed for the telecommunications market, ATCA systems are beginning to gain acceptance in adjacent markets. The largest of these markets are military, aerospace, and security. All share common requirements for highly reliable, high-performance systems, which are designed to cope with operating environments that are typically harsher than the traditional IT data center.

Session border controllers and media gateways transcode media traffic between the various standards used in different types of networks.
Data transmission, packet processing and high-performance computing are becoming ever more important functions in military, aerospace and security equipment. This is driving defense and aerospace contractors to examine whether ATCA can be adopted successfully in the tough conditions experienced by soldiers, pilots and sailors.

ATCA meets the US Department of Defense (DoD) mandate for a modular open system approach (MOSA), commercial- off-the-shelf (COTS) and reduced size, weight, power and cost (SWaPC) based solutions.

ATCA for the Cloud

The telecom industry loves to talk about the efficiencies and savings that can be gained by moving services to “the cloud”. But, when people talk about the cloud, they are generally speaking in terms of moving functions somewhere where the responsibility of service delivery becomes somebody else’s problem. The typical view of this cloud is a large array of very inexpensive homogenous servers, with general- purpose server processors, and no application acceleration. Individual nodes would not be highly available. Rather, service availability comes from a very large array of unreliable elements, managed by very smart software. In such a model, is there room for ATCA systems?

When people talk about moving applications and workloads to the cloud they assume that there are nodes in the cloud — that they don’t need to worry about — that will provide 100% reliability and all they have to do is write software that lives in a virtual machine. That ignores entirely the infrastructure to host these virtual machines. So fundamental questions are:

• What are the reliability requirements of these virtualized applications?
• What is the cost of an outage?

These questions are often conveniently ignored. Currently deployed IT virtualization software does not deliver the platform reliability required by telecommunication services. So, the big question for the industry is whether there will continue to be a market for platforms with traditional telecom availability and reliability, which are designed to host these new virtual functions.

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