ATCA/Standard Servers

The Network Appliance Platform: More Than a Carrier-Grade Server

A new class of networking platform has emerged that combines the cost effectiveness of carrier-grade servers with the flexibility and manageability of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms such as ATCA.

The network appliance platform has been developed by taking the standard carrier-grade server and using the extensive input/output (I/O) interfaces on the latest processors from Intel and other vendors to provide high performance and flexible networking interface and acceleration options.

Several vendors have also increased availability using enhanced BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) features and IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) to control redundant subsystems. These network appliance platforms provide significant benefits in many applications, including SDN/NFV and standalone network appliances.

Off-the-shelf platforms for networking applications allow system vendors and carriers to rapidly deploy new solutions. Almost all these platforms use Intel multicore processors with network processors or digital signal processors (DSPs) to accelerate specific workloads. There will likely be a significant challenge from ARM Ltd. -based solutions, but this is not yet reflected in the systems shipping today.

There has been much debate in the networking industry about the merits of using low-cost enterprise servers or industry-standard high-availability platforms such as ATCA. In reality, many companies have used carrier-grade servers to support the high availability requirements and ATCA where I/O flexibility and networking acceleration are required. The network appliance platform meets both requirements and, with the latest multicore processors, can pack unprecedented processing performance and networking I/O into a compact 1U or 2U rackmount system.

At this critical time, the latest issue of Heavy Reading Components Insider, "Rackmount Appliance Platforms Accelerate SDN/NFV," analyzes both network appliance platforms and carrier-grade servers. The report covers the leading platforms, reviewing product features, performance and flexibility, as well as key software solutions. The report profiles 15 vendors, examining their strategies and product portfolios.

Several vendors have traditionally provided carrier-grade versions of their standard enterprise servers. Both Dell and HP have 2U rackmount carrier-grade servers with Dual Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 processors. Carrier-grade servers are also available from Advantech and Kontron. These servers have Gigabit Ethernet (GE) or 10GE network interfaces and multiple PCIe slots for network adapters or other interface cards.

Network appliance platforms are available from multiple vendors, including Adlink, Advantech, Artesyn, Kontron, Lanner, Portwell, Radisys, Unicom, WIN Enterprises and ZNYX. Several vendors have both 1U and 2U platforms with different performance and I/O options. These platforms support up to eight network I/O modules in addition to multiple PCIe slots. Some I/O network modules support 40GE or 100GE interfaces, dramatically increasing the I/O capability from the standard 10GE and 1GE. Several platforms also support network acceleration with Intel Cave/Coleto Creek chipsets or network processors from EZchip or Netronome.

The performance of these network appliance platforms depends heavily on the software implementation. 6Wind, Enea and Wind River all supply packet processing and/or operating system software optimized for this type of platform. For Intel processor applications these software solutions work closely with the Intel data plane development kit (DPDK). The latest versions of this software have been enhanced to support virtualized applications using SDN and NFV.

Network appliance platforms pack enormous processing and networking I/O capabilities into a standard 1U or 2U rackmount form factor. These platforms can be as cost effective as carrier-grade servers but provide enhanced availability and significantly greater network interface performance and flexibility. These platforms will be widely used for both SDN/NFV deployments and standalone network appliance applications.

The next challenge for developers is scaling these platforms to support the higher performance and network I/O bandwidth required for larger telecom deployments that are currently implemented on ATCA or proprietary platforms.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst, Heavy Reading Components Insider

This report, Rackmount Appliance Platforms Accelerate SDN/NFV, is available for $595. For more information, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/commchip.

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