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Building Cost Effective and Robust SoC-based Network Appliances

Krishnan Venkataraman

May 17, 2010

Krishnan VenkataramanMay 17, 2010

Today, consumers and businesses expect secured access to their information or content on demand anywhere at any time. As digital media is now a standard for audio/video (AV) content, its access and delivery has become very complex, particularly for video applications.

This is primarily due to a high network bandwidth requirement for high definition (HD) resolutions and processing bandwidth requirements for video decoding, such as MPEG4/H.264. In addition, the Internet has become a way of life in many aspects and as a result user authentication and transaction authorization is becoming more significant for service providers.

System-on-a-Chip (SoC) solutions have been called upon to simplify many of these complexities within various demanding applications across many digital consumer products.

In fact, SoCs are providing improved product solutions in almost all areas, such as enterprise, retail, financial, healthcare, automotive, process control and more. Well optimized SoCs integrated with the most commonly needed functions and peripherals, yet generic to address different application verticals, can offer comprehensive embedded system solutions.

For example, with a base SoC as the foundation, a completed embedded system solution can be made to offer connectivity, content storage, content delivery, security and content presentation.

Tuned as a Network Appliance Processor (NAP) a SoC-based system has proven well capable and cost-effective with applications such as a USB Server, network attached storage (NAS), Point-of-Sale (PoS) terminals, Digital Signage and Smart Card Terminal applications.

Network Appliance Processors
Several SoCs exist in the market today with very high functional integration that can be used for a variety of applications. However, in many cases high integration devices may not offer cost-effective system solutions and frequently over or under perform for the target application needs.

Ideally a customized SoC integrated with right performance and functions would provide a perfect fit for a given application – not too many features, driving up costs, and not too few, leaving the application short on marketability.

Custom device fabrication is justifiable only if there is a high volume expected and the end product features meet all expectations. Also, custom approaches may demand a unique SoC for each end product solution, requiring costly and time-consuming silicon redesigns.

To expedite time to market – even with modifications for a new product – and save on design costs, a general SoC approach, one that has built-in flexibility to quickly modify or optimize designs for new target applications, should be strongly considered.

For example, the following lists SoC (let’s call this one “SoC1”) features for a well optimized network appliance. This one fulfills the need for security and data encryption features:

* ARM9 or similar 32-bit RISC with MMU
* 170 to 300 MHz operation, MMU, 16K Instruction and Data caches
* 32 MB, 100MHz SDRAM controller, 16/32-bit modes.
* Parallel 8-bit Flash, up to 8MB
* Local bus support for peripheral interfaces
* AES and DES/3DES Encryption
* SHA1, SHA256 and MD5 Authentication
* Standard UART, up to 0.5Mbps operation
* 20 GPIOs, interrupt capable, optionally used for software controlled I2C
* 3 USB Host ports and one OTG port
* 10/100 Ethernet MAC and integrated PHY
* 32-bit/33MHz PCI Host Bus

A second example (SoC2) network appliance processor with the following list of features is ideal for multiple applications that are performance-focused instead of security focused:

* ARM9 or similar 32-bit RISC with MMU, 500 to 600Mhz
* 32K I Cache and 16K Data Cache
* RGMII for 10/100/1000 Ethernet interface
* IEEE 802.3 compliant MAC, HW TOE
* 2 x USB2.0 with integrated PHY, with one OTG port, one HOST Port and supports Bulk, Interrupt and ISOCH types
* 1GB, 32-bit SDRAM, DDR2, 250-300Mhz
* Serial Flash Interface (SPI), up to 4 devices
* I2C Interface dompliant with I2C Bus standard V2.1 and supports up to 400Kbps data transfer rate
* Standard UART -1Mbps, 8 GPIOs, JTAG
* 10 GPIOs, interrupt capable
* x1 PCIe RC/EP ports with integrated PHY

A third example (SoC3) network appliance processor is the same as the second listed but, with an integrated display interface options:

* 6/8-bit LVDS FPD link
* 24-bit RGB
* VGA/SVGA/XVGA/WXVGA (1366x768)

With these three optimized devices and features within each, we essentially have a family of appliance processors. These three SoCs form different generic embedded platforms that are flexible enough to quickly provide multiple cost effective application solutions from each one: USB Server, network attached storage (NAS), Point-of-Sale (PoS) terminals, Digital Signage and Smart Card Terminal applications.

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