Enabling SFF systems: More than just CPUs

I’ve written earlier about SFF-SIG’s holistic view of the Small Form Factor (SFF) market and the need for multiple standards in various technology arenas to truly enable the design and implementation of open, interoperable SFF systems. The need goes far beyond that for SFF CPU and I/O boards. Other areas for consideration of new standards include memory modules, display interfaces, thermal solutions, enclosures, and more. In reality, this is a lot easier to talk about than to do. Each of these areas has its own set of experts and suppliers. It’s tough to get a bunch of CPU suppliers to talk about I/O boards. It’s even tougher to get them to talk (intelligently) about enclosures and display interfaces.

SFF-SIG has indeed delivered in this space by issuing standards for interfaces (SUMIT and COMIT), form factors for CPU boards (SUMIT-ISM and Pico-ITXe), I/O boards (SUMIT-ISM and Pico-I/O), and replaceable expansion storage (MiniBlade). Despite this success, I’d certainly hoped to be farther along on “other areas for consideration” by this time. To do so requires bringing together key experts in these other areas to define new standards under SFF-SIG auspices. SFF-SIG is much more about broad member involvement and healthy debate than simply rubber-stamping ideas submitted by members.

That said, I am pleased to report significant progress in one of these areas – rugged SFF memory expansion. Our investigation into this area was based upon the supposition that standard SODIMM solutions are inadequate for rugged, high-reliability applications requiring superior resistance to shock and vibration, even with clips, straps, glue, or other tie-down mechanisms. We also considered that soldering memory chips directly onto a CPU board has been shown to result in product mix, forecasting, and inventory challenges, and is desirable primarily for custom CPU boards.

In July, SFF-SIG initiated a Rugged Memory Working Group under the leadership of Virtium Technologies. Four memory suppliers and four manufacturers of SBC and COM CPU products have provided input and participated in this working group. After much discussion, the group narrowed down a potential solution and test-marketed its general parameters with a variety of CPU manufacturers outside of SFF-SIG. The results were positive, with excellent feedback regarding how to make the solution applicable across a wide variety of CPU solutions and form factors, even with form factors not currently supported by SFF-SIG members.

The group is working to fully define the specification and will initiate testing to determine if the solution truly meets the needs of rugged SFF systems. We expect to announce the details of the specification in early 2011. Meanwhile, the draft specification will only be available to SFF-SIG members.

This experience only serves to reinforce the perspective that industry subject-matter experts are needed to drive standards as we move outside the realm of CPU and I/O boards. SFF-SIG is providing a “big tent” for members from various technology areas to meet and discuss the unique needs of SFF systems. In the case of the Rugged Memory Working Group, we have the technology suppliers (the memory suppliers) in a give-and-take debate with technology users (the SBC and COM suppliers) to ensure that the solution is viable and meets real needs in the market.

SFF-SIG welcomes proposals and participation from other technology suppliers to initiate and drive efforts in the SFF space. While each of these individual areas has its own well-established standards group, no other organization has the SFF focus that is critical to the growth of the embedded market going forward. This focus is orthogonal to each of the individual building blocks, but is essential to tackle the overarching system trade-offs. Your expertise is both welcomed and respected. Information about the SFF-SIG can be found at www.sff-sig.org.

Small Form Factor SIG 408-480-7900 info@sff-sig.org www.sff-sig.org