Multi-core processors bring higher performance and lower power consumption to a broad range of applications. But the development of Next Generation Networks (NGN) relies on multicore processors as part of network elements. NGN is fundamentally about:
- consolidation of telecommunications standards to permit several transport layers to be merged into a single transport network,
- a restructuring of the telecommunications infrastructure to remove VoIP switching from the local exchange, and
- migration of constant bitrate voice data to CableLabs’ PacketCable standard.
NGN is often referred to by many as a “carrier grade” or “carrier class” capability. However, “carrier grade” does not have a standard definition. The essence of “carrier grade” comes from the idea that carrier infrastructure systems carry a better than five sigma reliability, availability, and capabilities. Although there has been a major difference between carrier and residential systems, the generally increased emphasis on software and hardware reliability has reduced the gap between the two classes of products. Capability and testing remain areas of difference.
In a very real sense, major portions of the telecommunications infrastructure are being distributed throughout the whole system. Part of this distribution is based on increased competition between carriers owning their own infrastructure, but part of it comes from adopting Internet technologies like Internet Protocol (IP) as a backbone of infrastructure systems. Because IP is fundamentally based on dynamic routing of data from source to destination, the telecommunications infrastructure is taking on the same philosophy of distributed systems.
Consolidation of transport layers in a single embedded system implies the need to handle many different transport layers, perhaps simultaneously. Conceptually, it’s easiest to consider each transport layer operating separately on its own processor. This requirement is most easily met by employing one or more multi-core processors to manage the transport layers. But with the benefits of multi-core come new challenges and complexity, not just from a hardware perspective but more importantly from a software development perspective. The move to multi-core can impact time to market—if you don’t have the right development tools, technologies, training, and support.
Virtualization is a key design and implementation technique for multi-core processors that enables:
- Consolidation - reduce multi-core hardware cost and footprint
- Reliability - build a safe and secure platform
- Performance - maximize throughput on multi-core systems
Consolidation means combining several logical systems together on a single hardware platform. Within the context of creating an NGN system, that means permitting different transport layers to become co-resident on the platform. For existing software that task is best handled by Virtualization and multi-core processors like the Intel® Xeon® processor. By using virtualization, each transport layer can reside on its own processor core with inter-process communications managed by a hypervisor. Thus, virtualization serves to isolate the operating software while providing an operating environment that requires the least amount of effort to make the software operational.
Reliability is both a hardware and software issue. Hardware reliability is a by-product of the consolidation process – fewer integrated circuits in an embedded system means longer meantime to failure. Software reliability is a more intentional factor and is quickly becoming a “must have” for standardized software platforms.
Performance of software operating on a multi-core seems like a given, but there are plenty of opportunities to actually obtain lower performance than on a single core processor.
Wind River Systems (1) has defined an open platform for NGN systems called “Carrier Grade Open Platform” (CGOP). CGOP is a software platform that includes operating systems, middle ware, application services, and a unique class of carrier grade features.
One of the aspects of CGOP that sets it apart from residential class equipment lies in the cross-application services offered:
- Fault management
- Performance management
- Security hardening
- Green support
- Operations support
Each of these serves a vital purpose in infrastructure embedded systems. But, the fundamentals of developing NGN rests on the development tools used to create and manage the applications that operate on the CGOP. CGOP gives engineers a head start on development by providing a large collection of software modules that can be put together in new and unique ways to form custom applications. This collection of purpose-designed support modules reduces the time required to develop a new application, or to simply create a replacement system for an already-fielded telecommunications product.
Software developers gain flexibility with the Wind River approach. CGOP supports Symmetrical Multi-core Processing (SMP), Asymmetrical Multi-core Processing (AMP), and hybrid options. Multiple OSes all run under a hypervisor - keeping memory and peripherals protected from erroneous reads and writes. Virtualization is a powerful concept that defines structured access to needed resources, and allows developers to simplify how multiple concurrently operating applications interact. In addition, virtualization permits the cross-application functions of CGOP to actually work.
It’s crucial for virtualized NGN systems to be supported by debugging tools, including simulation and system-wide techniques for debugging complex multi-core and multi-OS systems. Standard development tools from Green Hills Software (2) and Wind River offer debug tools for embedded Intel processors. JTAG-based probes rely on on-chip access to internal registers to control and report on software operations. The critical support tool must include multi-core functions to permit debugging and diagnostics of the embedded processor.
Wind River has integrated VxWorks and Wind River Linux in the CGOP platform. More importantly to developers, the products are integrated into the Workbench, On-Chip debugging, and Wind River Test Management. By integrating these capabilities together, developers are assured of a platform that is already structured to maximize developer productivity. All of these facilities are optimized for multi-core operation.
CGOP offers engineers creating the Next Generation Network a way to accelerate developments, create more reliable applications, and host them on COTS hardware.
NGN is coming. How will you respond to the challenge?
To view other community content focused on virtualization, see “Virtualization – Top Picks.”
- Wind River Systems is an Associate member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
- Green Hills Software is an Affiliate member of the Intel Embedded Alliance
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor)
Intel® Embedded Alliance