Designers of networking and communications devices now have an option to use a standardised backplane design rather than invent their own, according to the Advanced Switching Interconnect Special Interest Group (ASI SIG). The ASI SIG has released v1.0 of the ASI spec based on the same basic technology as PCI Express, PCI's proposed next generation. The SIG reckons it allows makers of "communications, storage and embedded building blocks to begin implementing the standards-based, modular technology into their next-generation designs". Don't expect to see it anytime soon though. ASI SIG president Rajeev Kumar said he expects the first completed building blocks based on ASI to be on the market early in 2004, with complete systems out by 2H05. Members of the ASI include Agere, Alcatel, Huawei, Intel, Siemens, Vitesse, and Xilinx. Also Intel's advanced switching initiatives manager, Kumar added: "Makers of the building blocks, such as chips and software, for complete solutions can now begin next-generation designs in earnest, for the first time taking advantage of the cost and time to market benefits of a standards-based modular approach. A number of companies are already announcing plans for design tools, test equipment, and software and hardware to support the design process." "Advanced Switching specification marks the first time the communications industry can step away from the cumbersome and costly practice of developing proprietary methods for connecting processors and system boards for each design," said Kumar. "Advanced switching opens the door to a modular era in communications equipment in which standards-based modular building blocks streamline the design process with its promise of reduced costs and quicker time to market." The ASI SIG also announced completion of four subsidiary protocol interface specifications which, it claims, complement the advanced switching standard by providing capabilities that traditionally have required development of proprietary switch fabrics. The first, PCI Express encapsulation, describes the standard tunnelling scheme for moving PCI Express packets through an advanced switching backplane. The three other protocols establish methods for moving data in specific applications. Simple load/store is an extension based on the PCI load/store method for transporting data in many communications applications that require specific addresses. Simple queuing is a method that uses queues instead of specific addresses for moving messages between sender and receiver. Socket data transport enables large blocks of data to be moved directly between memory devices without burdening a CPU in a manner similar to Remote Direct Memory Access. The ASI SIG said it plans to introduce these protocol interface specifications later this quarter. Advanced switching uses the same physical and link layers as the PCI Express architecture, according to the ASI SIG. At the transaction layer, advanced switching provides an array of specialised communications features, including high-availability functions, peer-to-peer and multicast networking, congestion and system management, scalability, and support for virtually any networking protocol. This transaction layer provides equipment developers the flexibility to create value-added features into communications, storage and embedded solutions. Together, PCI Express and advanced switching ensure broadly available building blocks and tools that enable component and equipment makers to reuse technology across multiple products, reduce design costs and shorten the time it takes to get products to market, reckoned the SIG.