Wednesday, 4 November 2009

ATCA - winning the design race, but are ATCA-based systems winning in the market?

ATCA is being used for multiple new systems by leading network equipment providers (NEPs), including Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia Siemens Networks, Motorola, Ericsson, Huawei, and ZTE. These vendors command a significant share of the market for 3G wireless infrastructure, LTE, WiMAX, IMS and other applications and early indications show that these vendors have already achieved significant successes with their ATCA based systems. As volumes grow ATCA vendors must ensure that NEPs using ATCA continue to win market share from those using other platforms.

So what advantage does ATCA give NEPs? By using ATCA and off-the-shelf components, NEPs can get to market more quickly, with a more flexible solution, than those companies using proprietary platforms. This gives those using ATCA a significant advantage in applications requiring new technology or new capabilities. See Off-the-shelf Solutions Drive CapEx Value. During the recent period of industry consolidation ATCA has already played a major role in product rationalisation. Both Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens Networks have developed a copy ATCA-based platform for use across their respective companies. In recent months Ericsson has acquired wireless and IMS products from Nortel that are based on ATCA and Cisco is acquiring Starent with an ATCA based system for IMS but not LTE. It remains to be seen how these ATCA based systems fair within their new companies.

Application ready ATCA platforms are available from about 10 vendors including Adlink, Continuous Computing, Emerson, Kontron and Radisys. These platforms are pre-integrated with CPU blades, switch blades, middleware and operating system dramatically reducing the cost of ATCA based system development. By passing on this cost saving networking equipment providers can be very competitive in the wider marketplace. Several NEPs including Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei and Nortel have developed their own, in-house, platform. These systems provide a common platform including company specific middleware and application software further reducing the cost of new systems. I have been following these developments for more than five years, publishing reports and running industry events. See for more information.

So where are we now? The size of the ATCA market depends both on the use of ATCA for new system designs, and the success of these systems in the wider marketplace. Cost, performance and time to market are key differentiators for NEPs. ATCA is delivering on all three but there remains significant competition from vendors using alternative approaches and the key to NEP success in the marketplace is more than just which platform is used for the system. Early indications are positive but it remains to be seen just how successful these NEPs are, capitalizing on the advantages that come from using ATCA to grow their own market share and expand the use of ATCA platforms and components.