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

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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].