VPX is like a three act play. Act one was the launching of a new high density platform for critical embedded computing applications. Leveraging the wildly popular VMEbus in 3U and 6U Eurocard formats, VPX added the capability of using high speed serial switch fabric technologies such as Ethernet, PCI Express, serial RapidIO, and others, that can be configured in various backplane topologies. VPX also greatly increased the number of backplane pins to handle more data traffic and user I/O making it more effective for today’s applications.

Act two was the addition of an architectural framework that manages and constrains module and backplane designs, including defining pin outs, and that sets interoperability points within VPX while maintaining full compliance. This architectural framework is referred to as OpenVPXTM. It was recently ratified by VITA and ANSI, making it available to the general public.

The efforts of the OpenVPX (VITA 65) working group represent a significant shift in the industry. Major industry buyers came to VITA to get an architectural framework for VPX in place, and quickly. The team responded start to finish in less than 14 months, which is quite incredible given the scope of the project. Much work is still ahead as additional framework alternatives are defined to meet specific needs of new applications of the VPX technology.

Act three is the rollout of products, from boards to complete systems, that follow the family of VPX specifications. Over 30 companies have announced, or plan to announce, products based on the series of specifications that define VPX. During this act, there will be much jockeying for position as the various profiles defined in OpenVPX (ANSI/VITA65.0-2010) start to gain acceptance. Trends will emerge that point to specific serial switch fabrics, board/system sizes, interconnect topologies, and many other configuration options possible with VPX.

VPX is initially targeted at the military and aerospace markets but several other market segments have similar needs for critical embedded systems and are showing strong interest in VPX technology. These markets include: industrial, medical, communications, transportation, and research.

In a recent survey of the embedded computing industry conducted by VITA, 40% of the respondents indicated that they are designing new products with VPX now, and an additional 36% indicate that they intend to use VPX in future projects. This is an overwhelming vote of confidence for the technology. Suppliers are working hard to expand the product offerings, ensuring that designers will have the right commercially available products for their upcoming projects. Designers are very pleased with the performance, scalable and expandable architecture, high computational density, extended temperature, shock, and vibration capabilities, and choices of cooling schemes. They are looking forward to the long product life cycles that they have enjoyed with previous generations of technology from VITA members.

It appears that designers have plans to take advantage of the backplane topology flexibility built into the VPX specification. Designers are evenly spread between centralized (star) configurations, distributed switching (mesh or ring) configurations, and hybrid switching where numerous combinations exist, even some with parallel buses like VMEbus and PCI bus.

The VITA members working on VPX have over thirty additional working group projects underway to improve and compliment the original VPX specification. New projects will surely be introduced to the working groups as the technology matures. These companies are fully committed to ensuring that VPX is the best solution for future critical embedded computing systems.

Ray Alderman

Executive Director