Increasing processor performance and virtualized network architectures are opening up new opportunities for rackmount appliance platforms.

Simon Stanley

January 21, 2015

3 Min Read
SDN/NFV Pushes the Boundaries for Multicore Processors

SDN and NFV are changing the requirements for multicore processors. Virtualized networks with virtual functions running on standard platforms require hardware systems that integrate more than a standard server processor. SDN and NFV significantly increase East-West packet traffic between systems requiring higher-speed network interfaces and lower-latency packet processing. Integrated multicore processors with high-speed networking interfaces and accelerators for packet and security processing offer a cost-effective solution for hardware systems used in demanding SDN and NFV applications.

The shift to SDN- and NFV-based solutions offer service providers the opportunity to increase service flexibility, reduce operating expense and use cost-effective server platforms. This shift is in contrast to the significant investment made by equipment manufacturers to build dedicated systems that can handle the dramatic increase in network bandwidth. These dedicated systems have high-speed networking interfaces and hardware accelerators for packet processing and application-specific tasks. Integrated multicore processors allow the development of cost-effective common hardware platforms that support high-speed network interfaces and accelerated packet processing without the dedicated hardware used in application-specific systems.

Integrated multicore processors based on MIPS and PowerPC cores have been available for almost 10 years. During the last two years, the number of integrated multicore processors has dramatically increased. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD) and Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (Nasdaq: AMCC) have developed new integrated multicore processor architectures. Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Cavium Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM) and Freescale Semiconductor Inc. have made their architectures more flexible to include new processor families based on ARMv8 cores. Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is sampling the Intel Xeon processor D family of integrated multicore processors. Both ARM Ltd. and Imagination Technologies Group plc have IP available that makes the development of new integrated multicore processors significantly easier.

Heavy Reading's new report, "Integrated Multicore Processors for the Software-Defined Network: A Heavy Reading Competitive Analysis," identifies and analyzes the full spectrum of vendors developing high-performance multicore processors and related solutions for telecom applications. The report profiles 15 key vendors and analyzes more than 80 different products and product families, identifying the key features and highlighting the advantages they hold for service providers and equipment manufacturers. The report covers general-purpose multicore processors, integrated multicore processors and network processors, including not only granular information on the components themselves, but also insights into how the overall market and ecosystem is developing.

Integrated multicore processors based on x86 cores are sampling from both AMD and Intel. Both companies also have general-purpose multicore processors that are widely used in networking systems. Intel has made significant investment in accelerating the performance of Intel Xeon processors for packet processing and other networking functions and has acquired the LSI Axxia product line of integrated multicore processors from Avago. Integrated multicore processors with MIPS cores are available from Broadcom and Cavium. Freescale has a wide range of PowerPC-based integrated multicore processors. Applied Micro was the first company to introduce ARMv8-based multicore processors, with the X-Gene family. AMD and Cavium are sampling ARMv8-based multicore processors and Broadcom and Freescale are developing ARMv8-based multicore processors. These integrated multicore processors handle up to 100Gbit/s bandwidths.

EZchip Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: EZCH) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) are developing new network processors that can handle over 400Gbit/s. EZchip has also acquired Tilera and the TILE many core processor architecture. Netronome is sampling a 240Gbit/s processor. Many of the integrated multicore processors use hardware accelerators originally designed for network processors. We can expect further use of network processor technology in integrated multicore processors.

The market for integrated multicore processors is developing rapidly. There are several new entrants with highly integrated solutions and existing players are developing integrated multicore processor architectures with a choice of CPU core architecture. Modular platforms such as micro servers and ATCA extend the choice of processor from the system developer to the service provider. The key to success will be not only general processing performance, but also packet processing throughput, integration and ease of use. Software developments such as the Intel DPDK and the OpenDataPlane project supported by ARM and other industry leaders will also be important.

— Simon Stanley, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading

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About the Author(s)

Simon Stanley

Simon Stanley is Founder and Principal Consultant at Earlswood Marketing Ltd., an independent market analyst and consulting company based in the U.K. His work has included investment due diligence, market analysis for investors, and business/product strategy for semiconductor companies. Simon has written extensively for Heavy Reading and Light Reading. His reports and Webinars cover a variety of communications-related subjects, including LTE, Policy Management, SDN/NFV, IMS, ATCA, 100/400G optical components, multicore processors, switch chipsets, network processors, and optical transport. He has also run several Light Reading events covering Next Generation network components and ATCA.

Prior to founding Earlswood Marketing, Simon spent more than 15 years in product marketing and business management. He has held senior positions with Fujitsu, National Semiconductor, and U.K. startup ClearSpeed, covering networking, personal systems, and graphics in Europe, North America, and Japan. Simon has spent over 30 years in the electronics industry, including several years designing CPU-based systems, before moving into semiconductor marketing. In 1983, Stanley earned a Bachelor's in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from Brunel University, London.

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