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Brocade virtual routers blow Cisco ASICs out of the water

Posted: 20 Sep 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel? routers? Cisco? ASIC? x86 platforms?

Intel could not find a better representative than Vyatta's CEO Kelly Herrell, who was recently behind the code running in a new line of x86 servers from Brocade Communications. The new servers act as virtual edge routers, undercutting costs of Cisco routers.

The Brocade Vyatta 5600 vRouter pumps out as much as 10Gbit/s in packet traffic per x86 core under the hood. Meanwhile, Brocade continues to drive ahead its own switches that, like Cisco, take a more traditional approach of using ASICs.

"The idea Intel silicon can drive multiple 10G cards at line rate is a realityit's shipping and we have customers using it," said Herrell, who became general manager of Brocade's software networking business unit when it bought Vyatta in 2012. "The ability of those x86 platforms to drive packets per second has exploded many fold in a short time," he said.

Since the Westmere generation of CPUs, Intel has been tinkering with ways to reduce cache misses and context switching latency when its processors handle packets. It rolled out a Data Plane Developer Kit (DPDK) to further grease the skids of its Xeon chips in comms systems.

Before that work, Vyatta used Linux for packet forwarding and it maxed out at 8 Gbit/s to 10 Gbit/s per CPU with little added benefits beyond five cores.


Herrell: "The idea Intel silicon can drive multiple 10G cards at line rate is a realityit's shipping and we have customers using it."

"Now we get 10G line rates per core with 64B packets and linear performance as we add cores," said Herrell. "System shipping today deliver almost 200G throughput for a two-socket server, and in the routing/firewall world that is shocking because it replaces $100,000 proprietary boxes."

Herrell claims some of the new Brocade servers will deliver 40x the throughput of more expensive Cisco virtual routers. That's thanks in part to the Vyatta software that uses Intel's DPDK to run control and data plane traffic on separate cores. The result is similar to performance of dedicated network processors from the likes of Cavium that use run-to-completion models and pass packets at the clock rates of the chips.

"The current product bludgeons the classic edge router, and Cisco has dominated this space," said Herrell. "The $2-20,000 Cisco ISR router is in our rear view mirror, and we are competing with the $20-100,000 Cisco ASR class router at one tenth the hardware cost."

Such x86 servers cannot compete, however, with Cisco in higher end core routers where it has a major product upgrade debuting September 24 based on its latest ASIC, the nPower X1. But the Intel's and Brocade's are just getting warmed up it seems.

"There's a lot more coming," said Herrell. "Intel hasn't been public with things around the corner, but I am grinning from ear to ear," he said.

"The overall trend is that for first time software is playing a key role in network infrastructureit was always assumed it was all done with ASICs, but that's no longer true," he added.

Brocade's new servers target the emerging market for so-called network function virtualisation. The term stems from a whitepaper from a dozen carriers calling for easier ways to manage their networks in software.

The carriers formed a two-year work group under the European Telecommunications Standards Institute that now includes more than 60 carriers and network systems vendors. It essentially aims to lay out guidelines for delivering features in high-level server software rather than traditional systems using ASICs and proprietary code.

The group had its first meeting in Paris in January. It meets about every two months and has its second meeting in Silicon Valley this fall. "From the very first meeting the vendor that took the most action items was Intel," Herrell said.

With the founding of Vyatta and now his work at Brocade, Herrell is riding the trend. "You don't need proprietary ASICs to do the bulk of the work for routing VPNs, firewalls, and that sort of thing," he said.

But it's not all black and white. At the same time Brocade launched its x86 servers for edge routing, it also rolled out new switches using its own in-house ASICs. The VDX 6740 are 10/40GE switches supporting up to 32 ports of Ethernet, Fibre Channel and Fibre Channel over Ethernet. Prices start at $16,000.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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