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Why next-generation infrastructures need smarter silicon

By Jim Anderson, senior VP and general manager, Networking Solutions Group at LSI, special to Network World
October 11, 2012 02:36 PM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Given the explosive growth in data traffic, Moore's Law is not enough to keep pace with demand for higher network speeds. A smarter silicon and software approach is needed.

Among the best ways to accelerate the performance of mobile and data center networks is to combine general-purpose processors with smart silicon accelerator engines that significantly streamline the way bits are prioritized and moved to optimize network performance and cloud-based services.

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One of the fundamental challenges facing the industry is the data deluge gap -- the disparity between the 30% to 50% annual growth in network and storage capacity requirements and the 5% to 7% annual increase in IT budgets. The growing adoption of cloud-based services and soaring generation and consumption of data storage are driving exponential growth in the volume of data crossing the network to and from the cloud. With the growth in data traffic far outstripping the infrastructure build-out required to support it, network managers are under pressure to find smarter ways to improve performance.

data deluge gap

Cloud data center networks were built with existing technologies and have thus far succeeded in improving performance through brute force -- adding more hardware such as servers, switches, processor cores and memory. This approach, however, is costly and unsustainable, increasing hardware costs along with floor space, cooling and power requirements, and falls well short of solving the problem of network latency.

Adding intelligence in the form of smarter silicon streamlines processing of data packets traversing mobile and data center networks. In particular, smart silicon enables next-generation networks to understand the criticality of data, then manipulate, prioritize and route it in ways that reduce overall traffic and accelerates the delivery of important digital information, such as real-time data for voice and video, on time.

Smarter networks

General-purpose processors, which increasingly feature multiple cores, pervade network infrastructures. These processors drive switches and routers, firewalls and load-balancers, WAN accelerators and VPN gateways. None of these systems is fast enough, however, to keep pace with the data deluge on its own, and for a basic reason: general-purpose processors are designed purely for compute-centric, server-class workloads and are not optimized for handling the unique network-centric workloads in current and next-generation infrastructures.

Smart silicon, however, can accelerate throughput for real-time workloads, such as high-performance packet processing, while ensuring deterministic performance over changing traffic demands.

Smart silicon typically features multiple cores of general-purpose processors complemented by multiple acceleration engines for common networking functions, such as packet classification with deep packet inspection, security processing and traffic management. Some of these acceleration engines are powerful enough to completely offload specialized packet processing tasks from general-purpose processors, making it possible to perform switching, routing and other networking functions entirely in fast path accelerators to vastly improve overall network performance. Offloading compute-intensive workloads to acceleration engines that are optimized for a particular workload can also deliver a significant performance-per-watt advantage over purely general-purpose processors.

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