1 - How are Standards created?
The process, at least within PICMG, is very structured but is straightforward. It’s taken us 20 years to get it right. All it takes to get started is for a minimum of three Executive members to create a simple, one page proposal called a “Statement of Work.” We want a minimum of three companies so no single company can dominate and use PICMG to declare something that is very proprietary to be an open standard. After this is submitted to the Technical Officer, something called a “Call for Participation “(CfP) is sent to all members inviting them to join. Once the committee has been formed and the members identified, the committee, now called a technical subcommittee, meets (usually via phone with LiveMeeting or WebEx) to flush out the initial Statement of Work and vote on it. Once that is complete, the Technical Officer informs all PICMG members of the activity and determines if there are any objections to PICMG doing the work (in 20 years of operation this has never happened). The technical subcommittee elects three officers: a Chair, a Draft Editor, and a Secretary. Weekly or bi-weekly meetings are generally then held to do the actual engineering work. Some committees get together once or twice a year for a multi-day face-to-face meetings. Calls for any intellectual property that a member might be aware of are made at every meeting. When the committee finishes its work (which typically takes 6 months to several years), it is reviewed by all PICMG members. This comment period is called a Member Review. When that is complete and the technical subcommittee addresses any issues brought up during Member Review, the draft specification is then submitted to the entire membership for a simple up/down vote. These are generally unanimous and there has only been one rejection of a draft specification in our 20 years of operation. The details of this entire process are spelled out in the PICMG Policies & Procedures, which is available upon request.
2 - What about Intellectual Property?
PICMG enforces a strict Intellectual Property Policy, which is designed to uncover any intellectual property that might become part of a standard or specification. The owner of any relevant IP must declare that IP, followed by a declaration of his or her licensing intentions. The committee proceeds with that knowledge, incorporating the IP or not as it sees fit. All Executive and Associate members are bound by this policy. All PICMG members, as a condition of membership, agree to license any “necessary” IP under RAND (Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) terms to anyone who wants a license. “Necessary” IP is IP that is required to implement the standard. Individuals participating in a technical subcommittee are not expected to understand their company’s entire IP portfolio, but are expected to disclose any relevant patents they are personally aware of.
3 - How do I get a copy of a PICMG specification?
Paper copies are generally the medium we use. Executive and Associate members, and Affiliate participants, may also purchase PDFs See the Order Form page
4 - Does PICMG do compliance testing?
No, it can be a legal nightmare and a source of expensive lawsuits if someone declares someone else’s product to be non-compliant. Like most other standards organizations, PICMG allows members to self certify.
5 - What is an Interoperability Workshop?
PICMG regularly conducts these workshops, which put a bunch of engineers with a bunch of product in a room for several days with the goal of making sure, for example, that a board from Vendor “A” works in a chassis from Vendor B.” The types of testing can be very complex, but it is always in the best interest of someone building to an open PICMG standard to know that his or her products work with those from other companies. The results of the tests are confidential to the testers and are never made public. This is known as Multi-Vendor Interoperability and is key to the success of any open standard. PICMG is a leading organization in this area.
6 - How do I make Build versus Buy decisions?
Anyone can build to a PICMG standard without restriction. Often, companies build one or two boards necessary for their application and buy the rest from other vendors. This speeds development time, time to market, and reduces development cost. Long term business relationships often result from the interoperability work and the valuable relationships that result. Others choose to hire integrators, who analyze the customer’s requirements, obtain the appropriate hardware and software, and deliver a fully functioning system to the customer. As systems become more complex, integration services are becoming more common and can add real value by lowering the overall engineering and development costs.
7 - What is “xTCA?”
This catch-all term is sometimes used to describe three standards families that are very closely related: AdvancedTCA, MicroTCA, and the Advanced Mezzanine Card (AMC). The term is not widely understood and PICMG is moving away from using it.
8 - How is PICMG organized?
PICMG is a 501(c) 6 non profit, tax exempt corporation with elected officers. Overall governance is directed by the Executive membership, which numbers about 100 companies. The Executive members constitute the Board of Directors.
9 - What is High Availability?
High Availability is a technology pioneered by PICMG and the Service Availability Forum. It uses a sophisticated management system of hardware and software to monitor the performance of everything from fans to software and can alerts operators if something is not working properly. HA, as it is known, enables predictive maintenance which can alert operators to potential problems that is followed by an orderly “fail over” to redundant resources, such as a CPU board, while the system continues to run. Hot swap is also part of high availability, as systems can be upgraded or repaired on the fly while the system continues to operate. This is a requirement of most central office telecom systems, which are often only allowed to fail for a few seconds or minutes a year and are also expected to run for 20 years or more. Both AdvancedTCA and MicroTCA systems can be built for high availability. It is noteworthy that mil/aero suppliers are moving to PICMG’s high availability architectures for their critical applications.
10 - Do I need to belong to PICMG in order to build equipment using PICMG standards?
No. Anyone can build to a PICMG standard.
11 - Do I need to buy a license or pay a royalty to build or use equipment?
No. Acknowledging U.S patent law, it is possible that at some future date, critical intellectual property for which the owner wants a royalty payment will be included in a PICMG standard, but this has not happened yet in our 20 years of operation. Our Intellectual Property Policy makes sure that all information is one the table so “hidden IP” cannot sneak into a standard.
12 - What is PICMG’s policy on logo use?
The use of the PICMG logo, as seen on this site, can only be used by PICMG Executive or Associate members. Logos for the various technologies can be used by anyone building equipment compliant with any PICMG standard.
13 - What is the difference between Executive and Associate members?
The rights, responsibilities, and privileges are slightly different, and a thorough explanation can be found on the Membership page.
14 - Can I join PICMG as a student?
Anyone can join, but the membership dues are the same for everyone.
15 - Are all PICMG 3 (AdvancedTCA) products interoperable?
No. There are many options in the PICMG 3 (AdvancedTCA) family of standards designed to address different applications and some are inherently not interoperable. A good example is a backplane designed to be used for Ethernet board-to-board interconnects probably won’t work with cards designed to use Serial Rapid I/O as the main data transport. Another example is a chassis that only provides 1000 watts of DC power won’t support sixteen 300 watt CPU cards plugged into it. The system management infrastructure of AdvancedTCA will prevent either of these examples from damaging equipment as boards negotiate their power requirements when plugged in with the management subsystem and will recognize that a Rapid I/O board won’t work in an Ethernet backplane and will, therefore, not power it up. This feature is very important to the telecom industry as errors by craftspeople are fairly common and could damage very expensive or very critical systems.
16 - How many active PICMG standards are there?
There are nine basic PICMG families of standards and about 50 subsidiary specifications. The main standards that have been developed for various applications or environments, and are explained on the “Standards” page.
17 - What does PICMG stand for?
The legal name of the organization is the “PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group” but that term is rarely used anymore and PICMG has moved way beyond PCI (although PCI Express is very common in PICMG systems now)
18 - How do I pronounce PICMG?
It is pronounced “PICK-EM-GEE” or “PICK-MIG”
19 - Is CompactPCI Serial accepted by the US Military?
Military customers are conservative and tend to adopt new technologies carefully and cautiously. They are wise to adopt this approach, as commercial technologies are often transient and consumer focused. Although CompactPCI is 20 years old, it has only seen broad acceptance in the mil/aero markets in the last 8-10 years. CompactPCI Serial is a young standard, and it will take some time for mil users to convert from CompactPCI (or VPX) to CompactPCI Serial. CompactPCI Serial has a major cost advantage over some of the standards that exist that are targeted for military only use.
20 - When was PICMG started?
21 - What is PICMG’s phone number?
The main phone number is 1-781-246-9318 between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM Eastern Time (Boston area). We can also be reached at the email address firstname.lastname@example.org/dev.
22 - Are any PICMG products suitable for airborne applications?
Yes, and they are becoming popular for avionics applications. They are also used ship-board by naval forces, and are used in the ISS space station and many commercial and military satellites. CompactPCI processors are the main computers running the Mars Rover, Curiosity. (We’re rather proud of that.)
23 - Are there any ITAR concerns when using PICMG standards?
Anyone building computer systems for export must be aware of ITAR restrictions that might affect their ability to export certain items to certain countries. ITAR was originally developed by the U.S. government to restrict the arms trade, but it has moved into electronics and control systems also. ITAR compliance is not an issue for PICMG, but rather may be an issue for those building and exporting equipment. PICMG recommends that vendors of systems and equipment seek legal counsel before exporting potentially contentious material to foreign governments.
24 - Is PICMG contagious?
We like to think so!
25 - What is the difference between and Open Standard and a Specification?
The term “Open Standard” generally refers to a technology that is open for anyone to use or build to. The term “Specification” is generally used to describe documents that define how equipment compliant to a given standard is built. One way to think about this is as follows: A 6-32 machine screw is a standard. The document that details its dimensions is a specification.
26 - How can I contribute to a standard or specification?
Join an organization like PICMG, join or form a technical subcommittee, and contribute. PICMG has specialists in many areas, and access to these specialists generally makes everyone involved more knowledgeable and informed. It’s hard work, but can also be a lot of fun. You will come to work with and know some of the leading experts in a wide range of engineering disciplines.
27 - Who determines which specifications are developed?
The rules are fairly simple. Three or more Executive members must come forward with a simple (usually one page) Statement of Work. After that, all Executive and Associate members are invited to join the technical subcommittee. Once a technical subcommittee has finished its work and the standard or specification is approved by all of the members, the committee disbands and the work becomes public.
28 - Can I buy an electronic (PDF) copy of a specification if I am not a PICMG member?
No. PICMG’s philosophy is to have a lot of members with diverse skills. In order to do that, we keep dues very low (see Membership) and generate additional revenue by selling specifications. PDF copies of specifications may be purchased by any PICMG member and there is a program available to Executive members that provide them with a PDF of every document PICMG ratifies.
29 - Who can be a PICMG member?
Anyone individual or company can join. Executive Membership entitles that member to be part of the overall governing body of PICMG, analogous to a Board of Directors. Executive Members can also propose work to be done and participate in the development process. Associate Members can participate in any technical subcommittee and vote, but they do not have overall governance privileges. PICMG has liaison agreements with other organizations, and those tend to require some legal agreements to keep the intellectual property rights of all parties protected.