The PCI Industrial Computing Manufacturer’s Group (PICMG), the consortium that developed the Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture (ATCA) standard, on May 5, 2009 announced the formation of a new Technical Committee for Large-Scale Physics Applications. See: http://www.picmg.org/v2internal/news.htm#pr050509.
The Physics community has been exploring the ATCA standard for at least the past five years, when it became of interest to the International Linear Collider program because of its
design for high availability and serial gigabit backplane architecture. A second PICMG standard applies to small mezzanine cards called AMCs which can be used on ATCA boards for I/O or combined into a small crate (shelf) packaging options called MicroTCA, or MTCA. The three specifications ATCA, AMC and MTCA combine to form PICMG’s xTCA line of specifications.
The Physics community quickly observed that PICMG’s xTCA standards are defined for telecom applications and had shortcomings for large physics machine and experimental applications, such as lack of designated analog IO connections; rear IO entry space to facilitate hot-swap; timing and synchronization clocks and triggers; mezzanine card form factors to facilitate analog-digital high performance designs; and fast low-latency architectures and communication protocols for real time controls and feedbacks. The physics community therefore was presented with an opportunity to agree on solutions that would enable subsequent module hardware and software designs to be more highly compatible and interoperable than if each lab went off on its own directions. Without such collaboration, the market for different functional modules would become highly fragmented and not nearly so attractive for industry to support. Achieving interoperability in both hardware and software systems is a chief goal of the PICMG xTCA organization, which speeds industry time-to-market as well as gives customers more choices among like-competitors.
The committee was formed following strong community interest shown at two workshops, the first at the 2007 IEEE NPSS Real Time Conference at Fermilab and the second at the 2008 NPSS NSS/MIC/RTSD Conference in Dresden. Upon invitation from PICMG the committee was formalized on March 10, 2009 under the sponsorship of four laboratories, SLAC, DESY, FNAL and IHEP, and two companies, Cypress Point Systems of Monterey, California and Performance Technologies of Rochester, NY. The initial organization was named the PICMG xTCA for Physics Coordinating Committee, a standing Technical Subcommittee which then initiated separate standards Technical Subcommittees for Hardware and Software in late May and early June. These groups all have formal Statements of Work that were approved by the PICMG Executive Committee and which aim to produce extensions to the specifications to address the concerns of the sponsoring laboratories, which are attempting to represent the requirements of the broader community in not just high energy physics controls and experiments but also in fusion, nuclear medical and imaging sciences, advanced light sources, astrophysics and other fields. One of the prime movers is the DESY XFEL machine under design in which both ATCA and MTCA solutions are being developed for Low Level RF and RF Interlocks and Controls subsystems respectively. A number of labs are either investigating or already investing in ATCA including SLAC and IHEP for generic high throughput, high bandwidth processor systems for experiments; BNL and the U.S. ATLAS detector for the future Large Hadron Collider Luminosity Upgrade; and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) fusion energy project in France for fast experimental plasma controls.
Currently the PICMG Physics xTCA Coordinating Committee has 44 corporate and 67 individual members; the Hardware Working Group 26 corporate and 35 individual members; and the Software Working Group 17 corporate and 24 individual members. Besides SLAC, DESY, FNAL and IHEP other labs that have joined the subcommittees are Forschungzentrum Juelich in Germany and IPFN in Lisbon, Portugal (involved with ITER and other plasma fusion projects).
To date the Subcommittees are making rapid progress in exploring the issues and focusing on narrowing potential solutions. PICMG Technical Subcommittees (TS’s) are expected to execute their promised SOW’s in a timely manner and then if there is no further expansion of the scope, to disband. As new needs arise, new TS’s are formed. Each time a new TS is formed membership is opened to the entire ~250 member PICMG consortium. In the same spirit new specifications developed in subcommittees are voted on by the entire PICMG membership. The current goal is to develop the most important extensions for both ATCA and MTCA by Q4 of the calendar year and with industry cooperation develop first prototypes in parallel by the end of 2009.
The Coordinating Committee has a role to review work products from the Technical Subcommittees before they are submitted to PICMG for general vote, but in principle all three committees independently report to the PICMG Technical Officer. The main difference is that the Coordinating Committee role will continue as long as there appears to be usefulness in pursuing consensus in the physics community to address new goals; otherwise it too will disband and the work of maintaining and promulgating specifications already approved will be carried on as routine PICMG business.
For further information on how to participate contact any of the following:
Ray Larsen, Chair Physics Coordinating Committee, firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Downing, Chair Hardware Working Group, email@example.com
Stefan Simrock, Interim Chair, Software Working Group, Stefan.firstname.lastname@example.org