What is an open standard?
Over the last several decades, open standards have become ever more important for a wide range of embedded and specialized computer applications, big and small.
What do we mean by an open standard? Definitions vary, but for the embedded computer world it usually means a succinct definition of everything a vendor needs to know to build equipment (and write software) that will work with compatible products offered by other vendors.
The first really impactful open standard was that of the IBM Personal Computer, first released in 1981. The ISA bus used therein was easy to understand, easy to design and build to, and it is fair to say there would not be the massive amount of powerful, inexpensive off-the-shelf hardware and software available today that exists for both personal and industrial computers without the hardware and software being open. The initial personal computer hardware wasn’t particularly rugged and didn’t need to be, so standards more suited for industrial, communications, transportation, and military applications emerged, including the first PCI-ISA, i.e. PICMG 1.0 standard, followed by SHB Express, CompactPCI, ATCA, MicroTCA, COM Express, VME, and a host of others.
One of the great values of an open standard is that it is not controlled by any single company, and the development and updating of these standards is controlled by a large group of interested parties working under the umbrella of an industry consortium using well defined and well tested processes.
Why use PICMG open standards?
Developers or vendors of PICMG compliant products may be large companies with broad technical skills or small organizations that are expert in a few areas only. Any vendor, large or small, can participate and profit from the large global ecosystem for these products.
Users benefit because they are not beholden to a single supplier, as is often the case when proprietary technologies are used. Suppliers of proprietary products know they own you and technology upgrades are often slow in coming and arriving. Users of open standards can pick and choose their vendors, who must compete on both price and performance continuously. With thousands of PICMG compliant products commercially available, users can change vendors if they want to and upgrade systems easily and efficiently.
Using PICMG open standards allows an equipment supplier to avoid having to design everything from scratch, and they can concentrate on the application specific portion of their product.
How are open standards developed?
This is usually done through non-profit industry consortia like PICMG. These consortia have rules and procedures that facilitate the process, and they work hard to ensure that it is fair and equitable.
The process is fairly simple. Groups of individuals or companies who realize the power of open standards get together, rough out an idea, and then invite others that belong to the appropriate consortium to join in the detailed engineering work.
Why is PICMG a leading standards organization?
PICMG has over 150 member companies that bring an extremely wide and deep talent base to the table. Unlike some other consortia, PICMG is not controlled by one or a few companies. It is governed by the approximately 65 Executive Members. They approve processes, procedures, elect officers and approve budgets. PICMG maintains a one company-one-vote policy, so no single company can dominate the standards development process. In operation since 1994, PICMG technologies are used world-wide and our processes are open and transparent. PICMG also has one of the best – if not the best – Intellectual Property Policy that ensures that members must submit IP declarations throughout the standards development process, where they can be accepted for use or rejected. All PICMG members are bound by their membership to offer RAND (Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) licensing for any IP that is chosen to be included. To date, no PICMG standard or specification requires any user licenses or royalties, and anyone can build equipment to or use PICMG standards whether they are members or not. PICMG is truly an open organization. Dues are low – in fact the cost of a yearly Executive membership has not changed in 20 years.
Why join PICMG?
By joining an organization like PICMG, anyone can play an important role. Participants have access to thought leaders in areas they or their company may lack expertise. They come to know experts in a wide range of engineering disciplines. The groups who develop these open standards do so because they are interested in getting something done in a finite amount of time, and bureaucracy and politics are kept to a minimum whenever possible. Members of these development groups have a common goal: to create standards that are widely used and that each company involved can make money from. Companies can specialize in their areas of expertise without needing to be good at everything. In addition to technical collaboration, business collaborations often evolve in a symbiotic way.
Companies who participate in standards development also have the very important advantage that they are already up to speed when the standard is released and can be first-to-market with compliant and leading edge products.
In its 20 years of operation, PICMG has published almost 50 open industry specifications that are part of nine basic standards families developed by participants from hundreds of companies. Work across a wide range of technologies continues and PICMG members have some big plans for the next decade as the boundaries of datacom, telecom, industrial, mil/aero, and deeply embedded computing blur.