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The Latest In Developer Resource Blades

High-density/high-availability (HD/HA) - especially for telecom - used to be a black art: equal parts application, operating system adjunct, hardware, and system integration engineering. At the deepest levels this is still true. Those with doubts (and everyone else) should visit Elma Bustronic's "community" website,

Of special interest is a new article titled "Designing a Backplane-Based Switched Fabric System," by Bustronic engineer Melissa Heckman and VP engineering Ram Rajan, which outlines in remarkably few words some of the constraints that bear on the new-product design process, and a few optimization strategies employed by elite engineers in overcoming them.

Heckman and Rajan's article makes it abundantly clear that "black art" still rules in the empyrean reaches of high-performance/high-availability system engineering, where every aspect of a finished system lies in the province of a specialist (EEs, MEs, TEs, etc.), but where interactions between domains (some previsible only through simulation) determine the viability and cost of a design.

At the application engineering level, however (and to an increasing extent, in the design of finished modular products), the industry has worked hard over the past few years to demystify the picture - creating backplanes, chassis, housings, resource components, middleware, OS adjuncts, and management systems that interoperate in standard ways, and offer predictable performance and cost at different scales.

The goal of this engineering effort, says Wendy Vittori, who became VP/GM of Motorola Computer Group early this year, is "to create an environment wherein application engineers can, with increasing confidence, assemble platforms from a growing range of off-the-shelf hardware and software solutions - secure in the knowledge that their needs for density, bus types, DSP and CPU horsepower and facilities, operating system type and package characteristics, power and cooling, form-factor constraints, connector types, cable routing, maintainability, availability and security have all been accounted for, and that the systems they're creating are, in a sense, pre-certified for standards-compliance, operating characteristics, and cost at various scales and volumes. Basically, we want our customers to be able to 'dial in' the platforms they need."

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