Forty Years On - Can VME Still Compete?
VME is celebrating forty years since its inception, and still boasting a substantial installation base. The embedded computing standard has shown us time and again what it means when the embedded community comes together to create a common architecture that provides a long-standing framework designed to strengthen the integrity of the embedded ecosystem.
Building the Embedded Community
Although the ratification of VPX in 2006 took some of the limelight off VME, by no means did VME fade into the background. In fact, it still has a strong presence in system upgrades and enhancements, even today.
Did you know there are still more than 60 companies actively developing VME-based products? Clearly, it’s because a need still exists.
In fact, a recent market report by VITA noted that annual sales of VITA standard-based products (VME, VPX and PMC/XMC) to the merchant market have increased on average 6.3% from 2019 to 2020. VME’s legacy is far from over.
Collaboration and Interoperability
VME was the first major successful open standard, and it solidified the belief that this type of collaborative concept could work. Thinking about the magnitude of the teamwork that has gone into the SOSA Technical Standard 1.0, from the DoD down to the component manufacturers, it’s a tribute to how VME helped carve that path for vendors and customers to work together.
With the pace of electronic technology rapidly accelerating over the past five years, one might wonder how an open standard, originally developed four decades ago, could keep pace with the data processing and expanded network requirements of today’s rugged embedded systems.
Many of its initial design principles have contributed to its four-decade lifecycle:
- Clear migration path
- Backwards compatibility
Meeting Modern Design Challenges
As part of its ability to withstand the tides of change, VME was developed as a group of standardized, compatible technology principles. Its ratification showed the industry a way to create products around a common set of goals and showed customers a way to buy them and interchange them. The continued evolution of VME, and its focus on modularity, helped to create our modern-day military systems.
A key update in this evolution is improved security requirements.
As discussed in a recent joint webcast by Nigel Forrester, Director of Customer Solutions for Elma's partner Concurrent Technologies, the emphasis to modernize VME in the past few years has included a large push to increase system security. This has been a unique challenge between backwards compatibility with legacy systems and ensuring today’s VME products can include the needed data security features of today.
System Security Up to Snuff
Nigel explains how firmware loaded during board production provides the root of trust that is then built upon further to enable the use of other security measures on VME boards and ensure system integrity.
The security implementation starts before the product is shipped but must also be carried throughout the entire lifecycle. Here are three key pieces:
- Boot Guard – utilizes a one-time programmable device fused with a public key during manufacturing. The BIOS firmware is signed using a private key and the board will only start if the keys match ensuring that only authorized firmware is booted
- Trusted Platform Module (TPM) - stores encrypted keys for safe storage of small amounts of sensitive information: passwords, cryptographic keys
- OS Boot: Secure Boot-public keys are used to validate the integrity and authenticity of each software piece starting with the OS bootloader, before it runs on a platform
Expanded Market Applications
VME has evolved throughout the industries it’s well known for and has even made its way into newer applications within those markets. In addition to its use for communications and control in military and aerospace, in railway switching stations and in accelerator labs within the scientific community, VME can be found in other areas, like CT and MRI scanners in the medical field and in machine control, inspection and automation throughout industrial applications.
VME’s legacy is far from over, as it has proven time and again its ability to evolve with system needs. As new initiatives are brought to light, VME will continue to provide designers cost-effective opportunities to enhance current systems.