windThe combination of rapidly growing data traffic on both wireless and fixed line networks and relatively slow growth in revenue has forced service providers to optimize network performance using policy enforcement systems in both mobile and fixed line networks.  Policy enforcement uses deep packet inspection (DPI) to identify applications and traffic flows. At the same time service providers are planning to implement network functions virtualisation (NFV), a new approach that uses virtual platforms to enable a more flexible network for service providers.


In this blog I am going to explore the benefits of using virtual platforms to implement DPI and policy enforcement using software development kits from 6WIND and Qosmos that have been optimized for Intel® Xeon® processors and Intel® Data Plane Development Kit (Intel® DPDK). 6WIND and Qosmos are Associate members of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. The 250-plus members of the Alliance collaborate closely with Intel to create hardware, software, tools, and services to help speed intelligent systems to market.


Policy Enforcement  in 3G/LTE Networks

Figure 1 shows the key elements in the combined 3G/LTE network. The LTE eNodeB base stations are connected directly into the enhanced packet core (EPC) that includes the Serving Gateway, PDN Gateway and MME. The 3G NodeB base stations are connected through the radio network controller (RNC) to the packet core (SGSN/GGSN). These elements are being implemented on virtual platforms as the industry moves to NFV.


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Figure 1. Policy Enforcement in3G/LTE Networks (Source: Earlswood Marketing)


Policy enforcement in 3G/LTE networks is handled by the Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) and Policy and Charging Enforcement Function (PCEF). The PCRF allows operators to dynamically control policies for bandwidth, charging and other functions for each subscriber and application. The PCEF implements these policies through the GGSN and PDN Gateway. Similar functions are used for policy enforcement in fixed line systems.


DPI Processing Platforms

DPI processing platforms have changed significantly over the last few years. Dedicated hardware has been replaced by multicore processors running on industry standard COTS platforms. This in turn has opened up the opportunity to use virtualized platforms for DPI and policy enforcement with applications running on virtual machines that are connected through virtual switches. This approach is being standardized by ETSI as Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV). There are many companies working on solutions for NFV including several that, like 6WIND and Qosmos, are supporting the CloudNFV initiative.


The development of the Intel® DPDK and the introduction of the Intel® Xeon® processor E5-2600 v2 have significantly increased the performance of virtual platforms. The 6WINDGate packet processing software and Qosmos ixEngine DPI software take full advantage of the Intel DPDK and Intel Xeon processors.


6WINDGate Packet Processing Solution

6WINDGate is a data plane processing software solution for multicore and virtualized platforms. The solution includes a full suite of layer 2-4 protocols for networking applications, works with commercial and open-source Linux distributions, and has full support for standard Linux APIs. 6WINDGate can be used to deliver best-in-class performance for mobile infrastructure, network appliances and data center networks.


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Figure 2. 6WINDGate in NFV (Source: 6WIND).


6WINDGate has full support for industry-standard hypervisors with no impact on system performance. Figure 2 shows 6WINDGate used in an NFV solution. Each virtual machine running within the hypervisor supports a virtual network function (NFV) with LINUX operating system and 6WINDGate networking stack. The virtual machines are connected through an open virtual switch which is also accelerated by the 6WINDGate networking stack.


The virtual machines and virtual switch are running on standard COTS or server platforms using x86 processors. 6WINDGate uses the Intel DPDK and is optimized for Intel processors such as the Intel Xeon processor E2600v2. When used to accelerate the standard Open vSwitch (OVS), 6WINDGate typically delivers a 10x improvement in switching performance and a 3x improvement in virtual machine density over a purely Linux implementation.


Qosmos ixEngine DPI Solution

The Qosmos ixEngine DPI is software development kit that supports real-time layer 7 IP flow analysis and application identification. The solution uses stateful inspection and heuristic analysis to extract metadata and content information. The ixEngine will extract over 6000 types of information for more than 1000 protocols. The Qosmos ixEngine includes software libraries and tools that are easily integrated into existing solutions. The Qosmos iXEngine is designed to work in a range of hardware platforms and virtual environments. The solution works with the 6WINDGate multicore network stacks and takes advantage of the Intel DPDK.


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Figure 3. Qosmos ixEngine in Policy Enforcement (Source: Qosmos).


Figure 3 shows the Qosmos DPI technology being used for policy enforcement on a virtual switch. The solution runs within a hypervisor that is running on an Intel Xeon processor-based platform. The solution bypasses the LINUX kernel via the Intel DPDK to accelerate connections for the virtual applications and virtual switch communication. An external PCRF controls the policy enforcement application that is pre-integrated into the hypervisor. The traffic shaping function uses information in the PCRF- configured flow table to transmit, queue, drop, or tag packets as required to enforce policy.


Virtualized Solutions

The combination of the 6WINDGate packet processing and Qosmos ixEngine DPI solutions running on virtual platforms is enabling high performance DPI and policy enforcement for NFV environments. These solutions are just part of the developments being made to ease the shift from dedicated systems to virtual platforms in the telecom infrastructure.


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6WIND and Qosmos are Associate members 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