Intel sees the transition to open networking as a natural fit for its traditional business model, and an opportunity to continue to grow by serving the needs of a new generation of comms companies.
I had a chance to sit down with Sandra Rivera, the vice president of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)'s data center group and general manager of its network platforms group, who spoke at the OPNFV Summit this month. We talked for less than half an hour, but she covered a lot of ground. Rivera is from New York; she talks fast. (See Intel's Sandra Rivera Weighs in on WiC.)
The network platforms group, which Rivera heads, is part of Intel's broader data center group, which also includes all of Intel's hyperscale cloud business as well as the enterprise group -- the largest but slowest-growing part, with single-digit growth, Rivera said. By contrast, Rivera's networking group has a small share of the market but is growing fast.
Overall, the data center group is a growth driver for Intel, helping the company beat analyst expectations in its most recently quarterly earnings report last month. A number of analysts believe Intel is morphing from a PC company into a data center technology provider. (See Intel Beats Expectations on Cloud Growth and Intel Earnings Flat As Cloud Growth Offsets PC Decline.)
Rivera was reticent about disclosing the networking group's size. It's greater than $1 billion, but has less than a 10% share of a market that is worth about $18 billion and grew by more than 20% last year, she said.
Intel is looking to achieve success by riding -- and accelerating -- the drive to open, New IP networks.
Networks are transitioning from purpose-built black-box physical appliances to new technologies built for the cloud. Networking equipment running custom ASICs and DSPs are transitioning to general-purpose CPUs. That's an opportunity for Intel, because general-purpose CPUs are its bread and butter, Rivera says.
"We leverage as much as we can from the data center and cloud. But networking has different requirements," Rivera says, including acceleration and cryptography.
Intel has been working directly with network operators for about six years on the feasibility of running high-performance networking workloads on general-purpose technology. In the early days, the discussion focused on whether that was even possible. But hyperscale cloud providers have demonstrated open networking architecture's practicality. "In the last two years, a lot of the focus of engagement has shifted much more to commercial viability," Rivera said. Network operators are now concerned more with issues of scaling, availability and other practical concerns.
The network group covers wireless access segments, including all basestation technology, such as Mindspeed small cells and networking chips from LSI Axxia, which Intel acquired from Arago. These two acquisitions fill out wireless networking from small cells to large cells, Rivera said.
Other networking technologies offered by Intel include the following:
- Cloud RAN, running software stacks on general-purpose processors.
- 3G and 4G LTE network nodes for the wireless core.
- Network appliances such as load balancers, moving to virtual appliances using SDN and NFV.
- Ethernet switches and controllers.
And the company is investing in 5G by supporting the transition from fixed functions to standardized servers, which it sees as essential to 5G technology.
"We've been investing in the networking space for a long time," Rivera says. "We have a four-to-one workload convergence strategy: Application processing, control plane processing, packet processing and signal processing. We have been winning share over the years by creating value out of the idea that you can run all those workloads on a single architecture, with a common tool chain, and common infrastructure."
The "heart" of Intel's strategy is "technology leadership" in SoCs, integrating Ethernet with a data plane development kit to run networking workloads on general-purpose processing CPUs, including packet processing, encryption and acceleration. Intel this month introduced new D–1500 SoC processors designed to accelerate server, storage and network applications, along with Ethernet controllers for data center applications. (See Intel Aims Xeon at Data Centers.)
"We surround that with a commitment to open source and open standards," Rivera said. Intel contributes to OpenStack, OpenDaylight, ETSI NFV, the IETF and other open source projects.
Intel also builds reference architectures, and supports the Intel Network Builders Ecosystem, which comprises 180 member companies, including Ericsson, Cisco, Huawei, HP, Dell and Juniper as well as comms providers such as Telefónica, China Telecom and Nasdaq.
Intel launched a "fast track" for network builders in August, to build performance, integrate pieces and optimize for particular use cases, including vEPC, vCPE and IMS.
Another area of focus is interoperability, helping customers bring multivendor solutions together. Intel has invested in benchmarking, plugfests, lab infrastructure and hackathons, and is partnering with labs run by HP, Huawei, Telefónica and AT&T.
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