September 13, 2023

Members Only Series: Meet Doug Sandy, PICMG’s CTO

Industry NewsNewsPICMG

The Members Only interview series highlights leaders from within PICMG and throughout the open standards development community. We recognize their contributions and seek insight into their thought processes and strategies that are driving open technology-powered industries forward.

This issue we introduce Doug Sandy, the CTO of PICMG. Over the past few months Doug has been busy handling the review and approval process of specifications such as MicroTCA.0 Revision 3, COM-HPC 1.1, COM-HPC 1.2, and ModBlox7.

PICMG: Who is Doug Sandy and what does he do?

DOUG: Who is Doug Sandy? What does he do? I am the Chief Technology Officer of PICMG. A little bit of background about me, I started in the embedded computing industry back in 1993 at a company called Pro-log.

Pro-log was based in Monterey, California, and we were one of the original founding members of PICMG. I don’t think I was in the very first meeting of PICMG, but I was there at the second meeting and my career sort of grew up with PICMG.

In 2017, I retired from my Chief Technology Officer position in industry to teach full time at Arizona State University, which is the largest university in the United States. I teach software engineering there and it also provides me a great opportunity to bring some of the things that are going on in PICMG and embedded computing into the classroom. It’s a nice merger of the two worlds of academia and industry.

I really enjoy working for PICMG. I enjoy the collaboration and the general atmosphere of the standards organization. We’re a no-nonsense organization. We get work done and we focus on working together. I’ve worked with other standards organizations or specification groups, and that’s not always the case. So, it’s just a joy to be in PICMG leadership.

PICMG: Speaking of work and getting work done, tons of different specifications are in the process of being ratified. What’s been on your desk recently?

DOUG: Oh, my goodness. Over the last year or two there have been more specifications going through PICMG than I can remember in all PICMG’s history. That’s a testament to PICMG’s relevance in the market.

One of the themes I’ve seen with the specifications going through is a return to PICMG roots – we started out as the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group. The specs we have in development right now have much more of a flavor of the traditional embedded markets. We’ve got things going into space, transportation, energy, robotic control, factory automation, and I’ve also heard rumblings of things going into telecommunications.

On a specification level, COM Express is a workhorse and it just keeps going. That’s the number-one module form factor out there by any measure you choose to look at it. There’s also been a huge interest in COM-HPC. PICMG is extending the computer-on-module concept from the laptop-caliber performance that you get with a COM Express module all the way up to high-end server performance with COM-HPC. One of the application spaces that’s been talked about is telecommunications for 5G applications, where you put computing at the edge or even merge the computing and the control node capabilities. But when you have a high-performance compute engine that’s on a module, you can do all sorts of other things with it.

In the high energy physics community, we have MicroTCA and AdvancedTCA. We have an initiative that’s aimed at oil and gas, which is exciting because it’s built for that space but can also find its way into other harsh environment automation spaces right near where the sensors and real-world interfaces are.

Another thing that’s in the works is ModBlox7, which is a modular computing concept that also takes us toward the sensors, toward the very edge of the computing network.

So there’s lots going on at PICMG. I can’t cover everything in this one interview. It’s really an exciting time. It’s fun to see how PICMG has evolved and shifted over the years.

PICMG: What do you think are the core values that keep engineers and organizations coming back to open standards like PICMG?

DOUG: It depends on where in the supply chain you sit. If you are an engineering manager, the value of open specifications is probably different than if you are an adopter of technology or an engineer that’s designing technology.

But if you’re a company that’s designing technology, one of the things open specifications and open standards do is provide a known interface you can design to. If you want to purchase, for instance, a module that plugs into your carrier card, you want to have an ecosystem of hardware out there that you can plug into your carrier and work. Without an open specification or open standard, what you have in the marketplace is just a variety of proprietary solutions; you can’t really focus on what you need to do without making it also tied to this other proprietary solution.

Open standards give you an opportunity to focus on what you’re good at. If you’re good at carrier boards, then you can focus on the carrier board and the logic and I/O on that and know there’s a compliant module that can plug in. This provides you freedom to focus on what you want, but also confidence in an ecosystem. If you’re on the other side of things and designing the modules, it provides a stable market as well because you know there are people creating carrier boards that need your module.

From those two perspectives, it’s helpful in building ecosystems. Other things open specifications are good for are problems that just can’t be solved by individual companies. I’ll give you an example of 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE).

100 GbE was something that we wanted to put on a backplane long ago. But if we had individual member companies working on how to solve that problem of 100 GbE the issue becomes we’ve got connector vendors designing connectors for what they think 100 GbE is, we’ve got backplane designers or cable designers designing for what they think it is, and we have board manufacturers designing to what they think. What you have is a bunch of chaos and the burden of integrating a system without an open specification or standard that governs all that falls on the integrator. The integrator needs to qualify every single piece of their solution and it can become very, very difficult.

What open specifications and open standards organizations do is provide a safe harbor for competitors to collaborate with one another to solve these industry problems. PICMG has been successfully doing that since its inception. I can’t say enough good things about the PICMG member companies, their professionalism, and their technical competency in solving some of the hardest technology problems in the industry. And I know that we’re going to continue that in the future.

PICMG: What are some of the things that you’re available to the community for?

DOUG: My primary responsibility as Chief Technology Officer of PICMG is to manage and respond to requests about the organization’s policies and procedures. That includes facilitating the entire specification standardization process, from statement of work through ratification.

I’m always interested in new concepts for specifications and assisting with making them a reality. If you have an idea for a specification that you want to see turned into reality, please reach out to me and I will try to help you along that process. That is part of my role as well.

Some of the other things that I’m really interested in on a technology level is in the space of Industrial IoT. How can we promote cyber-physical systems and digital twinning? PICMG does have some work going on in that area, laying the foundation in our IoT work. So, if you want to talk to me about that, that’s an exciting topic. I’d even be open to facilitating some research in that area with student workers. I think that’s going to be an exciting technology as it comes to reality in the future.

PICMG: How can the membership get in touch with you?

DOUG: [email protected].

September 13, 2023

Fall 2023 State of PICMG – President’s brief

Jess Isquith

Welcome to the Fall 2023 PICMG Member Newsletter!

2023 has been one of the most prolific years in PICMG history. Here’s what we’ve accomplished so far:

  1. Ratified COM-HPC 1.1
  2. Ratified Revision 3 of the base MicroTCA specification
  3. ModBlox7 (our new industrial box PC Specification) has completed the member review process (ratification expected by the end of the year)
  4. COM-HPC 1.2 (Mini) has completed the member review process (ratification expected by the end of the year)

Thank you to all the working group leaders and participants who contributed to the creation of new open hardware standards. Your work will continue the accelerated adoption of technology across industries. Your efforts have also contributed to the addition of more than twenty new members companies to the PICMG community.

The tremendous efforts of the technical working groups warranted an increase in PICMG’s technical marketing capabilities. We have added a second marketing officer to our ranks, Brandon Lewis, who is working in tandem with the elected marketing officer, Valerie Andrews. We have also established a marketing council comprised of experts from each specification working group who have deep knowledge of the PICMG organization. Council members work with the officers to define strategic promotions for PICMG and its specifications.

PICMG marketing initiatives have thus far included securing a conference track at Embedded World 2024 in Nuremberg (paper submissions due 9/29), the re-launching of this newsletter, unified messaging and branding work, and the creation of a virtual PICMG Implementers’ Forum, and more.

We encourage all members to participate in PICMG technical and marketing activities and engage the officers with questions and new ideas.

With so much going on already in 2023, I can’t wait to see what we accomplish over the rest of the year.

Jess Isquith

President, PICMG

March 12, 2023

A Fresh Look at CompactPCI Serial

Industry NewsNewsPICMG

A Fresh Look at CompactPCI Serial

Contributors: Dolphin, EKF, Elma Electronic and PICMG’s president

CompactPCI Serial has been around for many years. It’s enjoyed notable success in a diverse set of rugged embedded industries thanks to its modularity, scalability and cost efficiencies, especially in more complex application environments. We believe it’s a modular, open standard that has great application opportunities in applications where it can withstand most tough environmental requirements. After all, it’s widely used in the railway and transportation industry.

We asked a few CompactPCI Serial community members the following question, and this blog is the result of their shared thoughts.

Q: What are some aspects that engineers should know about when evaluating CompactPCI Serial as a potential system architecture?

Jess Isquith, President, PICMG

CompactPCI Serial is alive and thriving! In fact, the active technical working group addresses increased high-speed I/O, processing, and system management requirements. New applications and products are regularly introduced to strengthen the ecosystem, and the level of collaboration between PICMG members working on the specification and in industry has been remarkable.

Thanks to all of this, the CompactPCI Serial standard has become a popular platform for various applications requiring modularity, high performance, and symmetric multi-processing.

Recent enhancements include the cPCI Serial Space specification, which the European Space Association (ESA) adopted for many applications. As a result, over twenty European space agencies have acquired the specification and are incorporating cPCI Serial Space-compliant components in their systems. This development will ensure decades of deployment.

This current level of adoption and momentum ensures that the CompactPCI community will see continued success in various transportation, medical, industrial control/automation, communications, robotics and space applications.

On the PICMG website, you can learn about the many CompactPCI Serial reference materials and view the member product directory, which has over 140 standard product listings from over fifteen companies.

Herman Paraison, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Dolphin Interconnect Solutions

System engineers evaluating potential system architectures should consider the new capabilities of CompactPCI Serial.  Those developing complex systems can now use CompactPCI Serial to not only connect I/O components, but also multiple processors and more.  With the introduction of new CompactPCI Serial advanced PCIe switch modules, larger, more complex topologies can be created, which will have increased performance and lower latency.

New features such as processor-to-processor communication, I/O sharing, scaling multiple chassis with copper and fiber cabling are now available.  You will also be able to connect a CompactPCI Serial chassis to standard servers, increasing the processing power and scalability of CompactPCI Serial topologies.  System engineers can envision heterogenous environments with multiple processor and high-speed I/O based on CompactPCI Serial systems.

A key component enabling these new system architectures is the introduction of PCI Express (PCIe) software to CompactPCI Serial systems.  PCIe software is designed to enable communication between processors, SoCs, FPGAs, NVMe drives and other components.  For example, Dolphin’s standard PCIe software package, eXpressWare, includes APIs for shared memory, sockets, TCP/IP, and sharing as well as provides a standard interface to lower-level standard PCIe hardware.

Several new system architectures are now available to system engineers looking for scalability or increased processing within a CompactPCI serial format. Let’s say an engineer combines Elma CompactPCI Serial modules and chassis with Dolphin’s CompactPCI Serial switch.  The resulting system can use eXpressWare to communicate between processors, hot-add components within or to a CompactPCI Serial chassis as well as share components between multiple processors inside or outside these chassis.

The rugged, modular, scalable and cost-effective nature of CompactPCI Serial combined with these new capabilities, creates a powerful platform for system engineering evaluating potential new platforms.  And we expect these capabilities to increase in time as CompactPCI Serial continues to evolve.

Wolfgang Wiest, Channel Manager, EKF

CompactPCI Serial is one of the most, if not the most, modular standard for embedded applications. Its robust features make it suitable for harsh markets like transportation and heavy vehicles, but it is still cost-effective enough to be a good alternative in more complex industrial and IIoT applications.

With its modularity, robustness and versatility, CompactPCI Serial offers many advantages. In principle, the broad ecosystem and the defined consistent compatibility of the CompactPCI Serial standard make it possible to combine many different boards from different manufacturers.

These advantages can bring with them challenges, as well, especially in the initial phase of system development. However, with the right bridging options, such as those offered by EKF, it‘s possible to accommodate different technologies, e.g. PCI Express and CompactPCI Serial, in a hybrid system.

The connection of CompactPCI and CompactPCI Serial has always been provided by the CompactPCI PlusIO bridge standard. But for all the well thought-out and forward-looking compatibility between cards from different manufacturers and technologies, it still takes an element of experience to bring all this together in a functioning system and guarantee smooth operation.


Many things are possible with CompactPCI Serial, but for certain implementations – especially those that are more complex or have high degrees of customization – be sure to have a strong partners as part of your development team, ones nimble enough to manage special application requirements. EKF values its ability to be this type of partner, and together with a broad partner network, the decision to implement a CompactPCI Serial system offers many more advantages than a less modular standard.  To see EKF’s full range of products:

David Caserza, Embedded Computing Architect Manager, Elma Electronic Inc.

CompactPCI Serial is a very economical, easy-to-use, robust computing standard.  It utilizes Eurocard packaging standards, which have been popular for decades, and been proven effective, when modular, rugged computing is required.  It supports both multi-processor as well as processor plus multiple-peripheral configurations and should be considered for new designs as well as when there is a need to migrate from legacy CPCI or even VME systems.

CompactPCI Serial backplanes are designed with dedicated slot-to-slot connections for PCIe, SATA, USB, Ethernet and other required connections.  The wide variety of plug-in-cards (PICs) also follows these standards, thereby making hardware integration very easy.  The use of Eurocard packaging standards enables the chassis and boards to all fit together nicely, both during initial build and when performing maintenance or upgrade operations.  This modular approach carries the often-important benefit of keeping the mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) low.

There are single-star and full-mesh backplanes available.  With single-star, one processor board can enumerate and communicate with several peripheral boards and with full-mesh, several processor boards can be connected to one another via Ethernet.  These topology options make CPCI Serial a good choice for replacing legacy CPCI and VME systems, as many of those older systems were often built using a single board computer with multiple peripheral boards or with a cluster of processor boards networked together.

The Eurocard mechanical form factor of CompactPCI Serial also offers the benefit of a very mature packaging ecosystem, where chassis of all types are readily available.  These can range from tabletop and portable to 19-inch rack-mount and other shapes and sizes suitable for a variety of markets including:  industrial, semiconductor processing, medical, transportation, test/instrumentation, military and others.

CompactPCI Serial is a modern computing technology suitable for solving challenging demands in a wide variety of markets and applications.

Blog courtesy of Elma