Buy your way to the top of the market -

Buy your way to the top of the market

Board vendors gain market share through acquisition.

It's mind boggling what's happened in the embedded board space over the past decade. When I was covering this sector 10 years ago, the guys at the top of the heap were Motorola's Computer Group (now known as Motorola's Embedded Communications Computing, or ECC, group) and Force Computers. Intel was also slyly involved, but only those in the know were really aware how involved, because Intel didn't want to be seen as competing with its customers (selling processors to board vendors, then turning around and selling boards themselves).

If you go back a little further, way back to the 1980s, you may remember that Intel was actually one of the originators of the single-board computer (SBC) industry (although I don't think the term “single-board computer” had been coined yet). They started with Multibus, later followed by Multibus II.

To stay near the top of the leader board, RadiSys made a few acquisitions. And there were a host of mid-tier players, like Pentek, Performance Technologies, Sun Microsystems, General Micro Systems, Mercury, SBS, DY4, Themis, and so on. I'm sure I'm leaving off a lot of important people, but the memory isn't what it used to be.

Most of the serious SBCs were based on a 68000-series microprocessor from Motorola Semiconductor (now known as Freescale), followed by the PowerPC. Intel was just starting to nip at Moto's heels with the Pentium processor. Sun became a serious C contender with its own Sparc processor (and Solaris operating system).

In just a few short years, the industry is filled with a completely different set of players, most of which have attained their market share through acquisition. The current kings of the hill appear to be Kontron, GE Fanuc Embedded Systems, and Emerson.

If acquisition is your entry into the market, RadiSys took a big step forward recently by acquiring Intel's modular communications platform business for roughly $25 million, although that purchase price is a little hard for me to figure as other considerations are involved. Supposedly, the deal includes all of Intel's Compact PCI (cPCI), Advanced Mezzanine Card (AMC), and Advanced Telecommunication Computing Architecture (ATCA) boards for embedded communications.

What spurred this column was the recent announcement that Emerson has acquired Motorola's ECC group, for $350 million. Emerson will integrate the Moto business into its Artesyn embedded computing operation–which it acquired last year. The ECC group provides embedded computing products and services to communication infrastructure and equipment manufacturers in telecomm, medical imaging, defense and aerospace, and industrial automation. These are exactly the markets Emerson was looking to get into.

Emerson is now staking a claim as the new king of the hill, with the combined sales of the newly acquired companies. But if you look at what's transpired lately in this segment, that “kingdom” will only last until the next acquisition.

Richard Nass is editor in chief of Embedded Systems Design magazine. He can be reached at .

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