Communications and networking equipment often employ multi-architecture designs that combine network processors (NPUs), digital signal processors (DSPs), and general purpose processors (GPUs). From a workload perspective, this approach makes sense because telecom equipment handles highly diverse workloads – namely applications, control plane, packet processing, and signal processing. However, the multi-architecture approach makes development more complicated and increases the difficulty of scaling designs to suit different markets.
This problem can be solved by consolidating telecom workloads onto a single architecture. Such consolidation is possible thanks to the leading performance of multi-core Intel® Xeon® processors, along with advances in virtualization and other software technologies. Together, these technologies enable up to 4:1 workload consolidation, making it possible to run application, control, packet, and signal processing on a single platform. Figure 1 shows an example of how this consolidation can be used to greatly simplify base station designs. Other applications include:
- Unified threat management (UTM) and other security applications
- IP Media Servers, such as those used in Enterprise PBX systems
- Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) in LTE infrastructure and other applications
Figure 1. Consolidating workloads onto a single architecture greatly simplifies designs.
If you are new to this concept, the white paper Consolidating Communications and Networking Workloads onto one Architecture is a great place to get started. It shows how telecom equipment suppliers can reduce development effort, power consumption, and time to market – all while lowering their customers’ CapEx and OpEx. Among other things, the paper highlights real-world packet-processing benchmarks using solutions from members of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. (See Figure 2.) The Alliance’s 160-plus members collaborate closely with Intel to create optimized hardware, software, tools, and systems integration services that give OEMs a head start on their designs.
Figure 2. Packet processing on Intel® Xeon® processors.
As the above chart suggests, the increasing packet processing performance of Intel Xeon processors is a critical ingredient for workload consolidation. Developers can unleash this performance with the Intel® Data Plane Development Kit (Intel® DPDK). As shown in Figure 3, the Intel DPDK provides optimized packet processing libraries for Linux*. For details, I recommend the white paper High-Performance Multi-Core Networking Software Design Options by Wind River, an Associate member of the Alliance. This white paper covers standard Linux* SMP, Linux with Intel DPDK, and the Wind River Network Acceleration Platform.
Figure 3. The Intel® Data Plane Development Kit (Intel® DPDK).
A key challenge in workload consolidation is the fact that different workloads may require different operating systems (OSs). This challenge can be overcome with virtualization, a technology that enables operation of multiple OSs on a single hardware platform (Figure 4). Intel Xeon processors support virtualization through Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT), a set of technologies that provide hardware acceleration for virtualization.
Figure 4. Virtualization enables multiple OSs to run on the same hardware.
Keeping this background in mind, let’s look at how some Alliance members are using Intel Xeon processors to enable workload consolidation.
Unified threat management (UTM) appliances are one of the hottest segments of the security market. These devices integrate a full spectrum of security technology – such as intrusion detection, firewall, and anti-virus – to help customers reduce security costs. Bringing all of these workloads onto a multi-core Intel Xeon processor makes it easier to scale UTM designs. For example, Figure 5 shows how packet processing performance tracks linearly with the number of cores used. This figure comes from the excellent article, Scalable Performance for Unified Threat Management, written by Advantech, a Premier member of the Alliance.
Figure 5. IP forwarding performance for a 2.4 GHZ Intel® Xeon® processor E5645 running 6WINDGate* from 6WIND. The performance varies based on the number of fast path protocols running in the system.
One of the challenges of combining security workloads is the fact that different security functions often require different OSs. As noted above, virtualization is the key to bringing such functions together. To see how you can leverage virtualization to build multi-function security solutions, check out the article Versatile Network Security Devices by NORCO, an Associate member of the Alliance.
Deep packet inspection (DPI) is another hot market, and one that is full of challenges. In LTE applications, for example, DPI solutions must cope with exploding data capacity and increasingly complex packet inspection. Developers can meet this need by combining Intel® Xeon® processors with 6WINDGate*, a specialized packet processing software product from Affiliate Alliance member 6WIND.
Figure 6 shows the inner workings of the 6WINDGate. This software was recently benchmarked on an AdvancedTCA* (ATCA) blade from Premier Alliance member Emerson Network Power. For a basic fast path configuration including VLAN, IP forwarding, GTP-U tunneling, flow accounting, and QoS conditioning, the Intel® Xeon® processor E5645 on this blade can process 2.5 million packets per second (Mpps) per core with an average packet size of 512 bytes. This equals roughly 10Gbps of packet ingress and 10Gbps of packet egress per core. To translate these numbers into real-world performance, Emerson’s carrier grade Centellis 2000 2-slot ATCA platform could deliver up to 80Gbps of throughput in a 3U form factor. For more details, see the article Deep Packet Inspection in LTE Networks.
Figure 6. 6WINDGate* DPI platform for Intel® Xeon® processor-based PCEF.
Real-time IP media processing typically runs on specialized DSPs, but Intel Xeon processors can deliver carrier-class signal processing using software instead, even under heavy load. The Convedia* Software Media Server from Premier Alliance member RadiSys uses this software-based approach to implement an IP media processing platform that can scale to thousands of ports on a single 1U rackmount server, or tens of thousands of ports on a fault-resilient bladed chassis. Using commercial server hardware, this Linux-based SIP server can consolidate the functions of announcement and recording servers, audio and video conference bridges, interactive voice response units (IVR/VRU), messaging equipment, and speech platforms. In addition, a special “co-residency” capability allows the integration of VoIP all-in-one telecommunication products. A single Convedia Software Media Server deployment can support a broad range of enterprise VoIP applications, including IP PBX, IP Contact Centers, VoiceXML-based IVR, Unified Messaging, or voice/video enterprise-wide conferencing.
The links I’ve listed here only scratch the surface of what the Alliance has to offer. For more on building flexible networking solutions, see intel.com/go/embedded-consolidation.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance
Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston