State of embedded

VITA, the governing body of the VMEbus standard, has just released an addendum to its annual State of the Industry. It's authored by Ray Alderman, VITA's executive director. In this report, Alderman raises a lot of interesting points (which, if you know Ray, is not that unusual).

First, what will the upcoming presidential election mean to the embedded systems market, especially the mil/aero market? It certainly depends who is sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, but speculation is that defense budgets and purchases could shrink. This won't happen overnight, as many of the contracts are already in place. But the long-term effects could be unpleasant.

Energy management and connectivity remain strong options for the industrial market. With fuel prices rising as fast as they are, that's certainly no surprise. Unfortunately, many of these designs are in the very preliminary stage, but they'll come to fruition at some point (I hope).

Connectivity is becoming more a “must have” in the industrial and consumer segments. Enablers here include the ever-present Ethernet, as well as the wireless protocols like ZigBee and WiFi.

Telecom has long been one of the mainstays of the VMEbus market. However, according to Alderman, there's been retrenchment by telecommunication equipment suppliers over the past six months. Many of the problems stem from consolidation within the industry. Alderman says, “All this consolidation makes it more competitive and thus more difficult to get design wins. Fewer buyers means more challenges for the suppliers. Smaller niche suppliers will be especially impacted.”

In the report, Alderman points out something that I've been suggesting for quite some time–the use of FPGAs on embedded boards will continue to rise to new levels due to the uncertainty in the semiconductor space. It's nearly impossible to find an embedded board today that doesn't have an FPGA performing some function, whether it's for processing, logic, or I/O.

Assuming you're reaching reasonable volumes with your product, programmable logic is neither the cheapest nor the most power-conscious approach. However, it will likely get you to market the fastest and allows for design changes along the way, something that's certainly not available in an ASIC.

In closing, some potential disruptions are coming in the semiconductor industry that could certainly have an impact on the board industry. First and foremost is that dreaded consolidation word. Alderman says that it's not impossible to envision a semiconductor industry with just 50 vendors, down from the present 450+. “This prediction is particularly unnerving when the merchant board vendors have inextricably hitched their wagons to the semiconductor industry's directions and roadmaps.” Indeed it is.

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

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