Intel Doubles Down on 5G & NFV

The vendor lavishes an unusual amount of love on telcos and other network operators as it unveils an assortment of new networking, compute, memory and storage components.

Mitch Wagner, Executive Editor, Light Reading

April 3, 2019

6 Min Read
Intel Doubles Down on 5G & NFV
Intel's Lisa Spelman sports Optane earrings, reproductions of the Intel memory product, made by a local crafter in Portland, Ore.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel Data-Centric Innovation Day -- 5G and network functions virtualization (NFV) took center stage as Intel launched new networking, compute, memory and storage components.

Intel introduced hardware "spanning intelligent edge to cloud … to move, store, process data" for applications including AI, Internet of Things and security, the company said Tuesday.

Network and edge "cloudification" are major drivers for the new products, as well as cloud, AI and analytics, said Navin Shenoy, Intel executive vice president and general manager for the Data Center Group.

"The same concepts and technologies that created the cloud are now transforming the network. And as 5G emerges, we will only see that cloudification accelerate," Shenoy said.

The vendor launched its second-generation Xeon D–1600 scalable processors with Deep Learning Boost to improve deep learning performance. Intel claims it's the only CPU with integrated AI acceleration.

The new processors include configurations optimized for networking and NFV, with 1.76x performance improvement for NFV over previous processors, as well as enhanced quality of service.

In addition to the Xeon processors, Intel introduced: an Ethernet 800 Series Adapter for networking; Optane DC Persistent Memory; and two other processors -- second-generation Intel Scalable and Agilex FPGAs.

Matt Beal, Vodafone director of technology strategy and architecture, spoke at the event on a pre-recorded video. He said the telco is moving to the cloud with x86 processors. "Network workload has always been the hardest thing to inject in a general purpose processor," he said. The new Intel technology brings a higher degree of automation and reliability to Vodafone's infrastructure, as well as enhancing Vodafone's ability to scale to provide an exact fit for customer's needs at the moment, he added. (See Vodafone Meets IBM: 5G Dream Team or Culture Clash?.)

Don't forget memory
High-speed memory is a requirement for network performance, because the CPU needs to get data fast enough to operate, Shenoy said. To that end, Intel introduced Optane D Persistent Memory, with up to 36 TB in an eight-socket system.

Matt Singer, a senior staff hardware engineer at Twitter, took to the stage (in physical form) to talk about how the company uses Intel memory and storage to improve performance. Twitter processes more than a trillion events daily as users tweet and interact with other's tweets. That activity is processed by Hadoop, with 100 petabytes of logical data in a cluster, using hard drives for storage. Hard drives are affordable, Singer explained.

However, reliance on hard drives creates bottlenecks; hard drive capacity increases over time but Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS) are flat, Singer says. Twitter uses the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) to store data, and YARN, a large-scale distributed operating system for big data applications, to manage data temporarily. HDFS and YARN sometimes collide because they're running in real time.

Twitter's solution is to temporarily cache YARN to fast solid state drives, to improve performance.

Twitter is able to reduce the number of racks in a cluster, which reduces the size of the data center footprint, consolidating 12 smaller hard drives to one big hard drive in a system without reducing performance, and moving from four-core to 24-core Xeon processors, Singer said.

Twitter claims a 75% reduction in energy usage, and 30% overall reduced total cost of ownership, due to these architecture changes, Singer said. And Twitter can make better use of processors because memory bottlenecks are removed.

Next page: Life on the edge

Life on the edge
Intel sees the edge as a strategic focus for the future. The first generation of the edge is already here, in the form of content delivery networks (CDN), noted Lisa Spelman, Intel vice president and general manager, Xeon products and data center marketing. CDNs are responsible for 60% of Internet traffic: As an example of the kind of work CDNs do, Netflix alone delivers 97,000 hours of entertainment streamed every minute.

Service providers and operators need as much capacity and scale as possible to optimize demand for content, Spelman said.

Comcast did early beta testing of Optane DC Persistent Memory to improve access to content, drive down TCO and significantly increase performance, Spelman said. And Intel is working with Qwilt, a CDN edge cloud developer, on using Optane DC Persistent Memory to improve performance, pushing data out to the edge more quickly and improve video quality of service.

On the compute side, Intel is delivering Xeon processors optimized for the edge, supporting extended temperature ranges, ruggedization and longer life, with standard Xeon features such as ML Boost --important because 50% of machine learning inference will be done at the network edge, Spelman said.

FPGAs: Strategic to 5G
Intel sees FPGAs as strategic to 5G, by marrying hardware performance with programmability. "FPGA lets hardware evolve with evolving 5G standards," Spelman said.

Intel's new Agilex FPGA uses 10nm process technology, with bandwidth improvements, as well as applications for software developers, such as Quartus Prime design tools and a programming environment based on Intel's own "One API" initiative that aims to "simplify the programming of diverse computing engines across CPU, GPU, FPGA, AI and other accelerators." All the products incorporate embedded security, including security mitigation built into processors, built-in encryption, and open source security libraries, Intel says. The chip giant is partnering with both Lockheed Martin and Hewlett Packard Enterprise to deliver hardened security solutions.

Overall, Intel's new products are designed to help telcos and other network operators with workload management and tuning, as well as ensure the appropriate performance for specific functions, says Eric Hanselman, chief analyst at 451 Research .

"They'll be able to move forward and tackle thornier performance issues of NFV," Hanselman said.

Security built into the hardware will improve assurance for everyone, providing telemetry to identify and store information about known behaviors and anomalies, he said.

The Intel launch put communications service provider-focused technologies, and the needs of telcos in general, front and center of developments, and that's unusual for Intel. While the company has historically been strong in technologies used widely by network operators, the company generally focuses its marketing on industry-specific events such as Mobile World Congress and Light Reading's upcoming Big 5G Event (formerly the Big Communications Event, or BCE).

You're invited to attend Light Reading's Big 5G Event!  Formerly the Big Communications Event and 5G North America, Big 5G is where telecom's brightest minds deliver the critical insight needed to piece together the 5G puzzle. We'll see you May 6-8 in Denver -- communications service providers get in free!

But 5G and NFV have made telcos and CSPs more strategic for Intel, and for VMware as well, Hanselman said. (See VMware Takes NFV to the Edge.)

He noted that VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger identified NFV as a company priority recently. (See VMware Sees 'Enormous' Telco Opportunity.)

"NFV is where it's at," Hanselman said. 5G is driving demand for vendor products, and NFV is needed to provide the agility required to deliver the potential benefits of 5G.

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— Mitch Wagner Executive Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

Executive Editor, Light Reading

San Diego-based Mitch Wagner is many things. As well as being "our guy" on the West Coast (of the US, not Scotland, or anywhere else with indifferent meteorological conditions), he's a husband (to his wife), dissatisfied Democrat, American (so he could be President some day), nonobservant Jew, and science fiction fan. Not necessarily in that order.

He's also one half of a special duo, along with Minnie, who is the co-habitor of the West Coast Bureau and Light Reading's primary chewer of sticks, though she is not the only one on the team who regularly munches on bark.

Wagner, whose previous positions include Editor-in-Chief at Internet Evolution and Executive Editor at InformationWeek, will be responsible for tracking and reporting on developments in Silicon Valley and other US West Coast hotspots of communications technology innovation.

Beats: Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), IP networking, and colored foods (such as 'green rice').

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