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Hardware accelerators can help NFV servers meet the demands of carrier networks, says a Broadcom executive.

Broadcom Touts Hybrid Hardware Approach to NFV

Mitch Wagner
7/7/2014
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Carriers should adopt a hybrid hardware approach to their NFV deployments, enabling them to benefit from commodity servers as well as the performance of dedicated appliances, says Nicholas Ilyadis, VP and CTO of the infrastructure and networking group at Broadcom.

A hybrid approach would combine the virtues of commodity server hardware -- reusability, flexibility, low cost, and more -- with the throughput needed for carrier networks, says Ilyadis.

Servers based on commodity x86 or ARM processors can benefit from hardware accelerators performing packet header processing, deep packet inspection, encryption, and other functions that can be moved off the CPU for greater efficiency, Ilyadis says.

Nicholas Ilyadis, VP and CTO, infrastructure and networking group, Broadcom
Nicholas Ilyadis, VP and CTO, infrastructure and networking group, Broadcom

Running a commodity server for NFV is like running a commodity server as a network switch: It has performance costs. "You can take a server and run it as a network switch and get 40Gbit/s throughput," Ilyadis says. But a commodity switch, such as Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)'s Trident, gets much better throughput. Trident offers 32 ports at 40 Gbit/s each -- 32x the performance of a commodity server, for 1.2 terabits total -- at the same CPU wattage as the commodity server.

"If you just use a server as a switch, it's more inefficient. But the switch can't do what the server can," Ilyadis says. "If you have the switch do what it does well, and have the hardware do what it does well, and bring the two together, you have a more flexible implementation."

Bringing specialized co-processors to NFV servers will require standard APIs. "Otherwise, software developers won't know what hardware to write software for."

Ilyadis's position is arguably self-serving, as Broadcom manufactures networking and communications integrated circuits (ICs) and would benefit from adding its hardware accelerators to commodity servers. But Ilyadis points out that Broadcom also makes commodity ARM server hardware, so it benefits from pure commodity servers as well.

What do you think? Would hardware accelerators be useful for NFV servers? Or are they as necessary as parachutes for birds?

More about NFV:

More about Broadcom:

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to wagner@lightreading.com.

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Charly Babbage
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Charly Babbage,
User Rank: Light Beer
7/10/2014 | 5:58:37 PM
Hardware acceleration on adjacent top-of-rack switch
This article talks about adding a special "acceleration" co-processor to NFV servers.  Another interesting line of thought is to use the forwarding chip (Broadcom or something else) that is already present right next to the server (namely in the top of rack switch) for hardware acceleration.  That would require open "hardware offload" APIs between the top-of-rack switch and the server.
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