Network appliances based on mobile processors enable low power and cost effective solutions for network security and other functions, including firewall, gateway, anti-virus/spam and load balancing. The 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Processors have several enhancements that make them particularly attractive for network appliances and other communications applications.


In this blog I am going to explore the benefits of using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) Mini-ITX motherboards based on Intel® Core™ i7-3xxx Mobile Processor Series to build network appliances. For this blog I am using implementation examples from Super Micro Computer Inc. , an Affiliate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. The 200-plus members of the Alliance collaborate closely with Intel® to create hardware, software, tools, and services to help speed intelligent systems  to market.


Network appliances

Network appliances are stand-alone systems that implement one or more networking support functions. These include network security functions, such as firewall and anti-virus/spam filtering, media gateways and load balancing systems. Network appliances are often 1U or 2U rack mounted systems with plug-in modules for storage and networking interfaces.


Most network appliances have been built using custom motherboards and dedicated processors selected for the particular networking functions supported by the appliance. The introduction of high performance multicore processors with four or more cores with support for low level packet processing functions has opened up new opportunities for developers to build network appliances using standard motherboards and common processors.


Packet processing, security and virtualization

3rd Generation Intel® Core™ processors have changed the dynamics of this market. These processors benefit from higher frequencies, larger L2 caches and integrated GPU. These processors also integrate several features that support network appliance functions including virtualization (VT - VT-x, VT-d and VT-C), advanced encryption standards (IPSec), advanced vector processing (AVX), Turbo Boost, AMT (Remote Management) and Trusted Execution (TXT).


Companies developing network appliances based on 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7 processors can take advantage of the Intel® Data Plane Development Kit (Intel® DPDK). This is a set of libraries designed to implement high speed data packet networking functions with outstanding small packet (64 byte) performance. The Intel® DPDK offers a simple software programming model that is easily integrated with standard Linux implementations.


Mini-ITX motherboard for embedded applications

The Supermicro Mini-ITX X9SPV M4 motherboard, shown in Figure 1, provides an off-the-shelf solution for network appliances and other embedded applications. The X9SPV M is available with two or four core Intel® Core™ i7-3xxx Mobile Series processors and up to 16GB ECC DDR3 1600/1333MHz memory. The Mobile Intel® QM77 Express Chipsets PCH supports dual display, PCI Express Expansion, USB 2.0 and 3.0 and SATA 3.0 G/bs and 6.0 G/bs expansion options. The motherboard integrates four Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) LAN ports and expansion for additional GbE or 10GbE ports via an x16 PCIe 3.0 slot. Storage support includes up to four 2.5” SATA2 HDD or SSD drives.


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Figure 1. Supermicro Mini-ITX M Block Diagram.


The Mini-ITX X9SPV M4 motherboard is enterprise-grade and supports Intel embedded processors and chipset SKUs for long life availability (Typical 5 to 7 years availability). This solution is energy efficient with low TDP Mobile CPU. This reduces power consumption, enables quiet operation and supports harsher temperature environments. The Mini-ITX X9SPV M motherboard is shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2. Supermicro Mini-ITX X9SPV-M4 Motherboard.


Network appliance solution

System OEMs can either develop their own network appliance platform or use a standard server platform. Supermicro will supply motherboards or complete server solutions. Figure 3 shows a Supermicro 1U server.


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Figure 3. Supermicro 1U Server (Model 5017P-TLN4F with X9SPV-LN4F-3QE).

Off-the-shelf motherboards and server platforms provide a very cost-effective approach to developing network appliances. System developers add secure operating system, firewall or other applications and centralized management, taking advantage of the AMT remote management already integrated.


Best of both worlds

This alternative approach to developing network appliances takes advantage of readily available hardware that is affordable and powerful enough to address customer needs for packet inspection, traffic management, data encryption and security. The standard Mini-ITX motherboard has integrated networking interfaces that are expandable up to 10GbE LAN and uses 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ processors that are supported by the Intel DPDK, and other readily available software, enabling system OEMs to quickly bring new network appliances into the market.




Solutions in this blog:


Related topics:


Super Micro Computer Inc. is an Affiliate member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.


Simon Stanley

Roving Reporter (Intel® Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance

Principal Consultant, Earlswood Marketing

Follow me on Twitter: @simon_stanley