Processors go to the edge - Embedded.com

Processors go to the edge

With its newest QorIQ network processor offering, Freescale is making a move to establish its leadership the “network edge” in customer premise equipment (CPE) and Internet Service Provider systems. Where there is a growing need for offering a variety of Web services directly to the consumer.

To meet this need Freescale is depending on a new generation of network processors just added to its QorIQ-based LayerScape family: the LS1088A octal and LS1048A quad multicore processors, both based on ARM's 64-bit Cortex-A53 cores.

According to Matt Short, senior QorIQ product engineer, these new network processors are specifically designed for intelligent edge access equipment, network function virtualization (NFV) and virtual CPE solutions, industrial control systems, and intelligent virtualized network interface card (NIC) applications using software defined network protocols and building blocks.

Short said that unlike the Internet backbone, where the raw bandwidth of the processors in the data forwarding plane of a network switch is all important, in the intelligent network edge market it is more important to have the ability to adapt quickly to changing system and end user needs in the control or management plane.

Traditional uses of the Internet will test the download capabilities of hardware at the network edge. At the same time, new Internet of Things applications will test their limits not only in dealing with the amount of activity, but also the latency and upstream traffic management loads.

With current approaches, even simple cloud mediated IoT applications such as turning on a light or a fan could cause unpredictable latencies from sensing, wireless transmission, gateway processing, Internet delivery, and cloud processing. There are also different kinds of traffic to manage: high bandwidth dominates in traditional applications but IoT applications that use the cloud will require much more upstream traffic. IoT applications, however, generate data at the edges of the network, a pattern that could easily saturate router/switch's ability to manage traffic.

To address these needs, the newest iteration of the QorIQ processor architecture incorporates four to eight A-53 processors in the management plane as well as two 10 Gbit/second and eight 1 Gbit/s Ethernet wire rate processors and a 10 Gbit/s advanced I/O processor for use in complex packet processing in a network switch data-routing plane. To give the hardware as much flexibility as possible, the new devices incorporate a second-generation programmable data path architecture (DPAA2), which incorporates acceleration engines that allow virtualized network fast swapping through the use of sophisticated sharing techniques.

Arm Ltd's A53 brings a lot of muscle to Freescale's eight core QorIQ network edge processor(Source: Freescale)

Arm Ltd’s A53 brings a lot of muscle to Freescale’s eight core QorIQ network edge processor (Source: Freescale)

Developers and operators at the network edge also need tools and building blocks that allow them to configure new virtualized network interface needs quickly and seamlessly. So in addition to its own family of development tools, support for these newest ARM-based QorIQ devices includes not only the Linux OS but open source standards such as Open Flow, OpenStack and OpenDaylight as well. Just added to the QorIQ set of open source tools and capabilities is support for the Open Dataplane Standard (ODP).

“ODP is designed to abstract networking functions even further than what has been possible previously,” Short said. “It makes use of a set APIs that allow many vendor-optimized implementations becoming common at the network edge to be implemented easily. This will be a very important capability at the network edge, where despite the challenges, they may not have engineers experienced enough in the intricacies of software-defined network processor implementation.”

In an interview with EE Times, Abhi Dugar, cloud, mobile & security infrastructure technology analyst at IDC, said that Freescale is nicely positioned astride both the two fast-growing segments of the network switch and router business. “Competitors to Freescale in the data plane segment of the network backbone market have usually outpaced them in raw speed. But where the Power architecture-based implementations of the QorIQ had the edge has been in their high performance on the control/management plane side of the equation.”

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