When we use our ubiquitous smartphone, most of us aren't individually straining data networks. The problem is that there are a lot of us that are taking advantage of faster wireless services. Indeed the move to 4G wireless network technology including WiMax and LTE will drive the industry to deploy 40-Gbps-capable switches and packet-processing systems. The first systems and blades for the 40-Gbps transition have come to market this year and last, and the telecom service providers have stated a preference for systems based on standard technologies such as ATCA (Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture) and broadly available ICs. Let's have a look at the requirements for such systems and how Intel® Architecture processors might be deployed in such systems starting with system management today and data-plane applications down the road.


The fact is that bandwidth has been on a steady rise for years with an increase in services deployed over IP networks. Music and photo sharing have been followed by video consumption. And now we even consume such content over wireless networks and use our smartphones as impromptu Wi-Fi hot spots to stream multimedia data to our notebooks and tablets.


Emerson Network Power Embedded Computing* has developed an excellent downloadable ebook on the topic entitled "Get ready for 40G ATCA." Emerson notes that what began as video chats, web cam access, and YouTube viewing on smartphones has evolved to consumers viewing feature-length content.

And it's not just consumers on smartphones driving bandwidth requirements. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications will account for an increasing share of the bandwidth load going forward. You have automotive systems sharing routing information in real time with some cars having multiple wireless links. The industrial, commercial, and transportation markets are consuming bandwidth tracking goods, managing buildings, and deploying wireless sensors. Many of the applications don't consume much bandwidth individually. But there are going to be far more embedded connections to the internet and M2M links in the future than there will be smartphones, tablets or PCs.


Today we are in the midst of the 4G-mobile-network deployment stage with per-subscriber maximum data rates going to 100 Mbps. Emerson summarizes the trend in the chart below. As you can see, we are only a year or two from the first deployment of networks that will support 1-Gbps subscriber downlink speeds. The message is that even if you aren't planning on supporting 40-Gbps speeds in a system design today, design your system in a way that it can evolve to the faster speeds.




Emerson notes that IC technologies capable of 40-Gbps switching and packet-processing are emerging. Specialty ICs with tens of communications-centric cores will handle some of the real-time tasks, especially early in the 40-Gbps era. But expect IA processors to play a big role as well just as they have evolved into usage beyond the control plane in prior-generation systems. The Emerson document explains that you can deploy dual 6-core Intel® Xeon® processors on a single ATCA blade today with that platform able to handle 10-Gbps rates. You can fully expect next-generation IA processors to include architectural enhancements and additional cores that will enable usage in 40-Gbps data planes.


The ATCA standard has also evolved in preparation for the 40-Gbps transition. The PICMG (PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group) added support for 40-Gbps transmission on ATCA backplanes in PICMG 3.1 Option 9. The standard allows for 4 10-Gbps links or a single 40-Gbps link.


Let's have a look at how Emerson is supporting 40-Gbps designs in its Centellis 4440 ATCA platform. The backplane and thermal design is fully capable of 40-Gbps deployment even if an initial deployment only supports 10-Gbps speeds. The company offers the ATCA-9405 packet-processing blade and the ATCA-F140 switch blade – both capable of 40-Gbps speeds.


While the ATCA-F140 includes dedicated 40-Gbps switching, it also offers an AMC (Advanced Mezzanine Card) site that can be populated with numerous IA-based mezzanine cards. The IA processor can handle control-plane tasks. Moreover, the IA processors support Intel® Active Management Technology (AMT). AMT is one of several IA technologies that support the mission-critical reliability required in applications such as telecom systems, and also allows for remote management of a system.


Emerson also offers numerous server blades based on IA processors that can be deployed in a Centellis-based system. For example, the ATCA-7367 integrates a 6-core Intel Xeon L5638 processor and can host a second IA processor via an AMC site. The ATCA-7365 integrates dual L5638 processors.


Emerson isn't alone in targeting the 40-Gbps transition. For example, Radisys**, Kontron***, and Advantech*** have all introduced some level of 40-Gbps systems and modular products.


Let's consider the Radisys offering, part of which came courtesy of the company's acquisition of Continuous Computing. The company's FlexTCA 40G Platform (pictured) starts with a 40-Gbps backplane and chassis and includes numerous configuration options via blades. The offering includes both switch and packet-processing blades that operate at full line speed.




The platform also supports IA-based computing blades. For example, the FlexCompute ATCA-XE80 is available in single- and dual-processor versions based on the 6-core Intel Xeon L5645 processor.


Radisys has posted a number of other information resources you might find interesting when considering the 40-Gbps future. For example, there are also white papers entitled "40G: Is this race necessary?" and "High-performance ATCA: 80 Gbps."


There are also some other 40-Gbps centric posts from my Roving Reporter colleagues that you might review:


How do you prepare for major transitions in technology such as the migration to 40-Gbps networks? How are you utilizing processors such as the 6-core Intel Xeon processors mentioned in this post? And how do you implement remote management for mission-critical systems. Please share you experiences with fellow followers of the Intel® Embedded Community via comments.


To view other community content focused on manageability, see "Manageability – Top Picks."



Maury Wright

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)

Intel® Embedded Alliance


* Emerson Network Power Embedded Computing is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance

**Radisys is a Premier member of the Alliance

***Kontron is a Premier member of the Alliance

****Advantech is a Premier member of the Alliance