Systems designers are always pressing for faster and faster real-time performance, and data acquisition technology continues to evolve to meet that need. Currently available high-performance digitizers perform in the range of 2 to 5 GS/sec, and some new instruments are featuring 7 GS/sec digitizers for transient capture.

Often, advances in one area of technology put pressure on others, and in this case these faster digitizers have created a corresponding need for faster data recording to capture the digitized results in real-time. Streaming data recorders are currently capable of data rates in the range of 720 MB/sec, which is quite fast but still means a single recorder is incapable of recording all the data from one of these advanced digitizers.

Example of an ultra-wideband streaming recorder.

With some architectural insight and utilization of advances in serial FPDP interfaces, recording engines, switching, and storage arrays, however, an ultrawideband streaming data recorder can be created to keep up with these advanced digitizers.

Faster Serial FPDP

The first step in creating an ultrawideband recorder is to get data off the digitizer, calling for a fast, scalable interface. Serial Front Panel Data Port (FPDP, ANSI/VITA 17.1) has become a de-facto standard in sensor signal processing applications, for two reasons: it is fast, and it simplifies cabling and allows for longer cable lengths than parallel connections.

Serial FPDP builds on Fibre Channel links to remove the limitation of driving a parallel cable called for in the original parallel FPDP interface specification. A pair of optical fibers carries serial FPDP data from a few kilometers up to tens of kilometers of distance depending on exact configuration, and the high quality optical connection also has the benefit of improving bandwidth.

First generation serial FPDP products ran at 1.062 GB/sec, but link speeds continue to improve. Using a current 2.5 Gb/sec link, one of the faster serial FPDP implementations claims support for sustained rates of 247MB/sec using standard 8b/10b encoding with only 1% overhead for headers. As Fibre Channel speeds increase to 10 Gb/sec, serial FPDP transfer bandwidths will continue to increase.

Splitting a single data stream from the digitizer into several serial FPDP channels.

But today, even with these speeds our high speed 2 to 5 GS/sec digitizer of interest still outputs data faster than a single serial FPDP interface can handle. Solving this problem requires the first architectural insight: splitting a single data stream from the digitizer into several serial FPDP channels. Digitizers have been designed using FPGA IP that stripes data from the high-speed A/D converter out to numerous RocketIO ports using serial FPDP formats. In a 2 GS/sec digitizer, 12 of these links can carry the load using just 167MB/s per link. Faster digitizers could scale and implement more links.

With the data digitized and striped out to a set of serial FPDP ports, the front-end challenge is solved and the data moves to multiple recording engines for capture.

More Recording Horsepower

Recording engines generally grab data from a source and tag and format it for a mass storage device. Since digitized data is readily placed on serial FPDP links, recording engines based on quad serial FPDP inputs are called for.

While serial FPDP has advantages, it’s not the only interface out there. With that in mind, the latest recording engines have been designed to interface to a wider range of data sources by basing their inputs on PMCs, such that the I/O capability can be changed to meet the mission and scaled as technology advances. Using the latest generation quad serial FPDP PMC such as the VMETRO SFM, a single recording engine can handle four of the striped data channels from the digitizer. Bumping the interface from PMC to XMC increases the available I/O bandwidth into the recorder engine even farther.

Phoenix M6000 VXS I/o controller

Once the data is onboard, fast onboard processing using a Power Architecture processor augmented by an FPGA performs the tagging and formatting functions to prepare data to move into the storage area network (SAN).

Today’s fourth generation recording engine technology, such as the VMETRO M6000, is using XMCs with x8 PCI Express interfaces coupled with the high performance onboard processing, and has moved the bar for streaming real-time performance from around 90 MB/sec a few years ago to a current figure of 720 MB/sec. These recorders also feature GigE interfaces to facilitate management tasks.