VNX+ and small form factor SOSA: the next trend in embedded computing

This article appeared in Military+Aerospace Electronics and is reprinted here with permission.

THE MIL & AERO BLOG – The next generation of open-systems, small-form-factor embedded computing is almost ready for the industry and is likely to become part of the upcoming Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) 2.0 industry standard to be ratified later this year or early next year.

It’s called VNX-plus – written as VNX+. Its computer modules were to be about the size of a deck of playing cards and be a scaled-down version of 3U VPX embedded computing boards and backplanes described in standards published by VITA Open Standards, Open Markets Trade Association in Oklahoma City.

The VNX+’s small size fits into a 5-inch tube to accommodate small but powerful applications including 100-millimeter CubeSats, unobtrusive unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), and artillery-based sensors for long-term surveillance of contested areas.

Proponents say the conduction-cooled VNX+ will have the look and feel of the 3U VPX, but will be significantly smaller and will help ease the transition to small form factor embedded computing systems. The goals of VPX+ are to reduce embedded computing size, weight and power consumption (SWaP), system cost and time to market for small form factor embedded computing.

Some of the most promising applications include small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aircraft weapon pods, small satellites called CubeSats, and future generations of smart munitions. Essentially, the emerging standard is to enable industry-standard designs that previously required custom approaches, says Bill Ripley, an industry consultant for embedded computing specialists Samtec USA in New Albany, Indiana, and a long-time pioneer and advocate of small- Form Factor Embedded Computing.

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VNX+ is a logical progression from an earlier small form factor embedded computing standard called VNX or ANSI/VITA 74, which was ratified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in Washington back in 2017. VNX+ aims to be similarly successful VNX size was too short. “There was no urgent need for VITA 74, it was ahead of its time,” explains Ripley.

First, and perhaps most importantly, VNX+ can handle far more power than VITA 74 ever could. VNX+ extends thermal performance to 80 watts, while VNX could only handle 20 watts. In addition, VNX+ is optimized for signal integrity at high speeds, where VITA 74 stepped in before the speeds of today’s high-speed switch fabrics were even considered. In addition, the new standard is designed for today’s fast data buses and switch fabrics.

The VNX+ concept worked and “interest in VITA 90 was overwhelming,” says Ripley.

VNX+ is also designed to support aerospace and defense applications today and in the future, with standards in the works. The future VITA 90.4 is designed to accommodate wedgelocks for designers who need them and VITA 90.5 is designed for space applications.

VITA 90.5 will emulate many characteristics of the ANSI/VITA 78 SpaceVPX system standard, which provides high performance, fault tolerance, and interoperable backplanes and modules for high-availability space applications such as CubeSats.

Like 3U VPX, the upcoming VNX+ standard will benefit from OpenVPX standards and take advantage of the commercial infrastructure supporting those standards.