Looking Back on 20+ Years of Networking


US F-15E Strike Eagle

This is my final Connected Battlefield blog, as I’m retiring after 20+ years in the embedded board and system business.

Throughout that time, my focus has always been primarily on network and communications products. It’s been an amazing couple of decades during which I’ve witnessed a number of technology changes including Ethernet performance, switches offering enhanced configuration features, and the introduction of secure network routers.

I’ve seen a number of embedded board form factors emerge—from VME to VPX, CompactPCI, to ATCA, and PMCs to XMCs. The continued advances in silicon technology—such as system-on-chip (SoC)—has allowed the creation of Ethernet switches that now provide up to 32 10 Gigabit ports on a 3U VPX card and 20 40 Gigabit ports on a 6U VPX card. This type of performance and port density, along with lower power requirements, would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. Similar advances in Ethernet controller technology have led to network interface cards with 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports and I’m sure 40 Gigabit on an XMC can’t be far behind.

Exponential growth

The number of configuration options to support the management features of Ethernet switches has also grown exponentially to allow extensive routing capability and support for a wide range of security features. This has brought a new level of sophistication to how networks can be configured to be meet specific end use requirements.

Targeted applications such as the U.S. Army VICTORY initiative show the growing importance of switches in supporting mission requirements. Switches, and especially Ethernet, have become the main components for the overall system architecture, providing the interconnect strategy for connectivity among computing and I/O nodes. Remarkably, Ethernet has been able to sustain its dominance as an interconnect strategy for high performance computing applications in the face of competing technologies from both InfiniBand and Serial I/O.

Cybersecurity for networks is now in the forefront of application requirements that expect a certain level of protection regarding passwords, encryption, denial of service, and so on. Secure routers have offered these capabilities for some period of time, but now Ethernet switches are expected to provide similar features.

Information assurance certification levels for products is a subject brought up by customers more frequently than at any time in the past. Concerns about network security will continue to be a hot industry topic for the foreseeable future, and I would expect products to incorporate more product features to protect networks from attack and security breaches.

Great strides

I’m sure there will continue to be great strides in technology in next generation products which will push the envelope of product evolution. I’m pretty certain, for example, that 100 Gigabit Ethernet performance for embedded applications can’t be too far off in the future. In addition, new networking protocols and ways to add security capabilities will be introduced that will become the minimum requirements for vendors’ products.

In closing, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of the embedded board industry, having had the opportunity to work with an elite team of engineering professionals creating best-in-class products. I’m looking forward in retirement to spending more time with my family, taking up new hobbies, and travel. But at the same time, I’ll continue to track how technology will evolve over the coming years, and expect advances to be a much quicker pace than during the last twenty years. Just because I’ll no longer be working with the technology doesn’t mean I’ll lose interest in it. It’s been too important to me for too long.

Thank you, and best wishes.

 


Richard Spiesman

Richard is a 40-year veteran of the embedded computing industry. Having graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics, he joined Motorola before moving on to RAMIX, who were acquired by GE in 2003. He is now product manager for Abaco's networks and communications product line.

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