400G Packet Processing Required

High-speed packet processing is a key requirement for the latest telecom systems based on network virtualization. A significant number of companies are already using 100G packet processors and many will require 400G packet processors within the next year or two. Software compatibility and low power consumption are also key requirements making this combination the challenge for multicore processor suppliers.

This is one of the many key findings in Heavy Reading's new report, Multicore Processor Survey: 2017 Market Outlook, based on an exclusive worldwide survey that drew responses from 108 professionals that represent 72 different telecom and networking equipment suppliers. The report charts the use of integrated multicore processors, network processors, general-purpose multicore processors and communications processors in telecom and network application. It includes information on the use of different packet processors and requirements for future multicore processors. Respondents were asked which processors they used and how they rate each multicore processor vendor on the overall quality of their products. The report also includes information on requirements for security acceleration, traffic management, control plane processing, network interfaces, deep packet inspection (DPI), digital signal processing (DSP) and vendor support.

More than half the respondents to the survey said their company is already using 100Gbit/s packet processors, and 45% said their company would require 400Gbit/s packet processors within one to two years. A significant number of respondents said their company used field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) or application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs)-based packet processors. The leading application for the companies covered in the survey was software-defined networking (SDN)/network functions virtualization (NFV) platforms.

Integrated multicore processors are available from seven vendors, including AMD, AppliedMicro, Broadcom, Cavium, Intel, Mellanox and NXP. The leading integrated multicore processor is the Intel Xeon D family that is being used by almost half of the companies covered in the survey. The other integrated multicore processors have ARMv8, MIPS or Power architecture cores. The network processor market is led by Mellanox, with some using Netronome network processors.

The high-performance, general-purpose processor market is dominated by Intel, with the Intel Xeon E5 family being used by approximately 50%. The other general-purpose processors being used in telecom and networking equipment include Intel Xeon E3, Intel Core i3/i5/i7, Intel Xeon 5xxx series, AMD Opteron, AppliedMicro X-Gene 3, HiSilicon PhospherV660 and Qualcomm Hydra. The survey also covers communications processors from AppliedMicro, Broadcom, Cavium, Marvell, Mellanox, Microsemi, NXP and Texas Instruments.

Telecom and networking applications require additional functionality, including security acceleration, traffic management and control plane processing, to meet the performance and power requirements. This additional functionality may be integrated into the multicore processor, implemented in a dedicated merchant device, ASIC or FPGA, or implemented in software.

For future system development companies will be choosing multicore processors based on many parameters, including performance, power, interfaces, integration and vendor support. The most important selection criteria will be software compatibility with price, performance and other parameters also being considered.

Multicore processors used in telecom and networking applications must be able to support high-speed packet processing up to 400 Gbit/s. The shift to virtualized network implementations using SDN and NFV will increase the importance of general-purpose processors, but there will also be a significant role for integrated multicore processors with network interfaces and hardware acceleration. The requirements for high-speed packet processing, software compatibility with existing processors and limits on power and cooling provide a significant challenge for vendors developing a new generation of multicore processors.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst at Large, Heavy Reading

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