Glen Fawcett, chief executive, Concurrent Technologies, talks with Chris Shaw
CS: How has the introduction of Intel's Xeon processor 5500 series enhanced Concurrent Technologies' boards? GF: Concurrent Technologies' processor boards are all based on Intel processor technology chosen from Intel's long life embedded roadmap. This roadmap offers a wide choice of processors and supporting chipsets allowing us to choose the appropriate processor/chipset platform for each board design we undertake. The introduction of the Intel 5500 series allows us to expand our range of products still further by adding very high performance, server class products. The first product we have introduced, which uses this new processor technology, is a 6U CompactPCI board allowing us to benefit from the processing performance of either the quad-core 2.13GHz Intel Xeon 5518 or the dual-core 2.0GHz Intel Xeon processor L5508. The significantly increased performance of the Xeon 5500 series over previous generations of processors has been eagerly awaited by many of our customers and will be particularly useful to any application requiring vast amounts of data processing bandwidth such as medical imaging, deep packet inspection, surveillance and monitoring systems. In all these applications, our PP66x/071 family of boards will not only supply the increased processing performance, but will also provide high speed off-board interfaces (SATA300 and 10GigE interfaces) to allow high speed transfers of data from the point of collection and, after processing, to the storage devices within the system. CS: Tell me about Concurrent Technologies' involvement with the Intel Embedded and Communications Alliance. GF: The Intel Embedded and Communications Alliance is very beneficial to Concurrent Technologies. Intel is our number one component provider and our whole product roadmap and strategy is driven by Intel's technology roadmap; so it is extremely important that we have very close relationships with many different groups within the Intel organisation, from engineering support and technical information, through to co-operative marketing and selling. These relationships are key to assisting us to introduce the very latest Intel processor technology such as the Xeon processor 5500 series to our customers and markets. CS: What are the biggest challenges of designing industrial computer boards for critical embedded applications? GF: In general, our customers require products with high performance, and yet low power. Today's highly integrated devices allow us to increase the performance and functionality of our products, but we still have to keep within the thermal power envelope for each of the bus architectures and associated markets. The Intel processors and chipsets we use today have much improved thermal characteristics over previous generations and yet provide vastly increased performance capabilities. The second challenge we have is to design products that will be available for many years. We rely heavily on technology driven by a very fast changing commercial world but our customers and markets, especially the defence and transportation customers, change relatively slowly due to the vast amount of investment they make in software and product testing. For example, it is reassuring to know that applications such as air traffic control systems are not changed every few months – they use products that have been fully qualified and tested in their systems, and they need the products we supply to such projects to be available, without change, over many years. CS: Concurrent Technologies complies to the RoHS 2002/95/EC directive, what further standards would you like to see implemented? GF: Today, we comply with many standards – both environmental and technical. Practically all of the technical standards we comply with are open standards which are beneficial to our market place. These open standards allow customers to have a wider choice of products and the ability to mix and match suppliers according to that supplier's expertise, safe in the knowledge that all the products will work together; the customer is not restricted to having to buy every board in their system from one supplier to ensure that they all work together. We have always welcomed these open standards as they drive the technical innovation the world requires and allows suppliers to concentrate on what they do best. However, we also have to be aware that many of our customers do not always want change. For example, in the defence industry the change to RoHS was not particularly welcomed as it was seen to introduce risk into previously very well tested equipment, which needs to be installed and supported for many years. The older non-RoHS equipment was not adding significantly to the piles of lead contaminated technology waste generated by the commercial world's desire for the latest and greatest in technology and gadgets. The introduction of RoHS meant that our customers had to either buy up stocks of their approved leaded components or requalify new RoHS compliant devices, both options increasing their costs. CS: Concurrent Technologies' main markets are telecommunications, military and aerospace sectors. Which of these is fairing best in the current recession? GF: Taking a pessimistic view, and listening to the daily news, it is difficult to understand how any market, company or individual will not be affected to some extent in this recession. Our customer base fortunately covers a variety of markets, and we are mostly involved in long term projects the majority of which have not yet been particularly affected. Applications in secure communications and surveillance - both defence and commercial applications - would appear to be mostly stable. Applications in the industrial and commercial market sectors are probably the worst hit at the moment. For example, companies providing equipment to the electronic component manufacturers are seeing a slow down because the commercial consumer market producing televisions, cameras, etc, which ultimately drives the volumes for components has gone into sharp decline.