The performance of virtual systems is critical to the success of Network Function Virtualization (NFV). From a hardware perspective, the biggest issue is overhead in the processor – a problem that Intel addressed nearly a decade ago with the introduction of Intel® Virtualization Technology (Intel® VT). However, NFV also puts serious strain on the network interface. Now developers can address this bottleneck with the new Intel® Ethernet Controller XL710 product family 10/40 GbE, which extends Intel VT to the MAC.

 

In an earlier post, I wrote about three AdvancedTCA* (ATCA*) blades that use this MAC in combination with the Intel® Xeon® processor E5-2600 v3 family to deliver exceptional networking performance. In this post, I look at how this controller family extends Intel VT beyond server virtualization to help virtualize the network. I also look at additional blades and NIC modules available from members of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance that use this advanced design.

 

The Intel® Ethernet Controller XL710 Product Family 10/40 GbE

The Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family is an energy-efficient 25 x 25 mm chip. Running at 3.8 watts, the Intel Ethernet ControllerXL710 product family delivers up to twice the bandwidth while consuming half the power compared to the previous generation.

 

The Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family features dual 40 GbE, single 40 GbE/quad 10 GbE, and dual 10 GbE configurations. This range meets the needs of a wide range of today’s servers, network and storage appliances, and telecommunications equipment. For example, large data centers and cloud operations can use this controller to help them move to 40 GbE and significantly reduce their cabling costs.

 

What makes the Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family unique for NFV is that the controllers are designed from the ground up to work with highly virtualized Intel® Xeon® processor E5-2600 v3 family (Figure 1). Providing hardware optimizations and off-loads to extend Intel VT to the network, the controllers can intelligently offload networking traffic per VM, enabling near-native performance and VM scalability to reduce I/O bottlenecks. The result is the controllers can improve both packet processing performance and the rapid provisioning of networks. Instead of requiring up to six weeks to get a new service up and running, providers implementing Software-Defined Networks (SDN) and NFV on these Intel® platforms could have performance-optimized services up and running in a matter of hours.

 

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Figure 1, The Intel® Ethernet Controller XL710 product family includes a wide range of packet processing and virtualization features designed to extend virtualization to the network and optimize performance when used with servers based on the Intel® Xeon® processor E5-2600 v3 family.


The host-based virtualization technologies include:

  • VMDq for Emulated Path – a NIC-based VM queue sorting  that enables efficient hypervisor-based switching
  • SR-IOV for Direct Assignment – a NIC-based isolation and switching feature that enables optimal CPU usage in virtualized environments for various virtual station instances

 

An innovative offload feature, Intel® Ethernet Flow Director, significantly reduces latency by intelligently directing packets to the CPU core and application that require them. Its programmatic traffic steering feature observes outgoing flows and creates a connection between source and destination. Intel Ethernet Flow Director can support up to 8,000 perfect match values extracted from sampled outgoing packets and stored on die to efficiently classify packets and set the affinity of flows to cores. (For more on this feature, watch this video.)

 

The Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family is also optimized for the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) for additional performance enhancement. This set of software libraries enables faster, more efficient small-packet processing for NFV applications such as firewalls and load balancers.

 

Adoption of network overlays is important for virtual function segregation. Here, the Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family shines as well. These controllers support standards-based offload overlays like Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN), Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation (NVGRE), and Generic Network Virtualization Encapsulation (GENEVE). Additionally, the Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family provides Virtual Bridging support that delivers both host-side and switch-side control and management of virtualized I/O.

 

The Perfect Team

In generation after generation, the Xeon® processor family has delivered increases in computing performance and integration of key server subsystems. From an I/O perspective, the best network virtualization implementation strategy is to leverage the ever-escalating computing power and cores of the Intel Xeon processor where appropriate and implement complementary accelerations in the network controller. Through its balanced hybrid of compute and off-load with the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v3 family, the Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family enables optimal performance and efficiency for tasks such as flow classification and TCP stateless off-loads.

 

Some good examples of blades that enable providers to take advantage of this synergy come from Advantech, a Premier member of the Alliance. Advantech offers the dual-processor MIC-5343 40G ATCA blade for datacom and the MIC-5345 40G blade in single- or dual-processor SKUs for server and virtualized applications (Figure 2).  Both blades integrate the Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family. ATCA systems that utilize these blades include Advantech’s 2, 6 and14 slot Netarium* Systems and their 2 and 14 slot Netarium eATCA systems.

 

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Figure 2. The Advantech single- and dual-processor MIC-5345 40G ATCA blade.


Looking specifically at the telecom blade, the MIC-5344 includes the Intel® C610 Chipset and eight DDR4 R/UDIMMs for up to 512GB with ECC support. The blade supports up to four 40GBase-KR4 ports on Fabric interface and two 1000BASE-T ports on the base interface. One Fabric Mezzanine Module (FMM) port with front I/O support (type II) is available and two CFast/one 2.5" SSD storage device provide solid state memory for application and data backup. The blade provides all the failsafe and failover options required in a telecom environment.


NIC Modules

For those that want a NIC module they can plug into a network appliance equipped with the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v3 family, Lanner, an Associate member of the Alliance, offers the NCS2-IQM201 (Figure 3). This 2-port 40G NIC module uses the Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family to provide two QSFP Fiber connectors to expand network connectivity to 2 x 40GbE transmission capability with fiber cabling, offering a theoretical maximum of 80 Gbps bi-directional throughput (40 Gbps in; 40 Gbps out). The NCS2-IQM201 comes with PCI Express Gen 3 x8 gold fingers for insertion in a PCIe 3.0 x 8 NIC module slot. Lanner also offers the 4x 10GbE NIC module, the NCS2-IXM407. Both modules are compatible with Lanner’s recently released FW-8894 and FW-8896 network security appliances featuring the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v3 family.

 

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Figure 3. The Lanner NCS2-IQM201 NIC module delivers a theoretical maximum of 80 Gbps bi-directional throughput (40 Gbps in; 40 Gbps out).


Another option is the S40G-12Q from Super Micro, an Associate member of the Alliance. This NIC card also provides dual QSFP ports using the Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family to enable 40Gb/s per port. The low profile, standard short-length form factor card inserts into a PCI-e x8 Gen 3 (8GT/s) slot. The card supports Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and copper cables or optional transceivers for fiber optic cables.

 

An Intelligent Platform for Making a Smart Move to NFV and SDN

Providers looking for a high-performing platform optimized for network virtualization will find no better way to start than the products featured here and other solutions from the Alliance that feature the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 v3 family and Intel Ethernet Controller XL710 product family. These are purpose-made for telecom NVF.

 

 

Learn More

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Solutions in this blog:

 

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Advantech is a Premier member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance. Lanner and Super Micro are Associate members of the Alliance.

 

Mark Scantlebury

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance

Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine