EZchip Semiconductor has disclosed the first 200 Gigabit-per-second network processor chip. The NP-5 will double the packet processing performance of the company’s existing NP-4 network processor and will sample at the end of 2012.
“We don’t know of any device, announced at least, that comes close to this”
Amir Eyal, EZchip
The NP-5 is noteworthy in integrating within a single chip a full-duplex 100 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) packet processor and traffic manager. Such integration is important as line cards move from 100Gbps to 400Gbps densities, says Bob Wheeler, senior analyst at The Linley Group.
The NP-5 is aimed at router and transport switches platforms that make up the carrier Ethernet switch router (CESR) market. Platforms include packet optical transport switches and edge routers. Infonetics Research forecasts that the total Carrier Ethernet market will grow to US $37bn in 2015 from $26bn in 2010, while the CESR market will double to $20bn by 2015.
EZchip says its main competition is in-house ASIC design teams of the large system vendors. Alcatel-Lucent for example has just announced its FP3 400Gbps network processor. The FP3 is implemented as a three-device chipset made up of a packet processor, traffic manager and a fabric-access chip.
EZchip also believes the device has a role within the data centre. New protocol developments require packet processing that today can only be achieved using a packet processor, it says.
An example is OpenFlow which EZchip supports using its current NP-4 processor. OpenFlow is an academic initiative that allows networking protocols to be explored on existing switch hardware but it is of growing interest to data centre operators. The initiative creates an industry-standard application programming interface (API) to the underlying switch platforms.
The latest OpenFlow version (V1.1) can only be supported using a network processor, says Amir Eyal, EZChip’s vice president of business development. However the data centre is seen as a secondary market for the NP-5. The downside is that the NP-5 and similar network processors targeted at telecoms cost more than switch ASICs from vendors. Only when the functionality of an NPU is needed will vendors pay more.
The chip's main functional blocks are a programmable packet processor and a traffic manager. Also integrated on-chip is an integrated Ethernet switch fabric adaptor, media access controllers (MACs) that support 1, 10, 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), and a memory controller designed for use with DDR3 external memory to reduce overall system cost. The current NP-4 supports DDR3 and RLDRAM - considerably more expensive than DDR3.
The packet processing is performed using task-optimised processor engines (TOPs). Four styles of TOP engines are used: Two perform classification - parsing, which extracts packet headers and data fields, and searching using look-up tables; and one TOP each for packet modification and packet forwarding.
Each TOP has a 64-bit architecture and processes a single thread. A scheduler allocates a packet to the next available free TOP. EZchip does not disclose the number of TOPs it uses but says that the NP-5 will have almost twice the number used for the NP-4, with the most numerous being the search TOP due to the numerous look-ups needed.
An on-chip ternary content addressable memory (TCAM), meanwhile, supports more sophisticated look-ups and operates in parallel to the simpler TOPs-based searches.
The traffic manager provides bandwidth and guarantees a certain service level performance to particular packet flows. The traffic manager makes decisions when packet congestion occurs based on a given traffic’s priority and its associated rules.
The NP-5 first stores packets in its internal buffer memory before dropping lower-priority packets once memory is full. It is rare that all the input ports are full simultaneously. By taking advantage of the integrated MACs on-chip, up to 24, 10 Gigabit ports can be used to input data. The NP-5 can thus support peak flows of 240Gbps, or a 2.4-to-1 oversubscription rate, equating to a system line card supporting 24-ports at 10Gbps traffic at the same cost as a 10 port-10Gbps design, says EZchip.
The NP-5 will also have four integrated engines. Each engine will support either 12x10GbE, 3x40GbE, 1x100GbE or one Interlaken interface. Two of the four interface engines support 48, 1GbE ports using the QSGMII interface while the remaining two support 12x1GbE ports using the SFI interface.
The QSGMII interface allows a quadrupling of the links by interleaving four ports per link. However an additional external device is needed to break the four interleaved ports into four separate ones. The SFI interface allows a direct connection to a 1GbE optical module.
Also included on the device is an Ethernet fabric adapter that supports 24, 10Gbps (10GBASE-KR) short-reach backplane interfaces.
The 200Gbps NP-5 will be able to process up to 300 million 64byte packets per second. The chip’s power consumption is estimated at 50W. Implemented using a 28nm CMOS process, the device will require 2,401 pins.
The NP-5 is scheduled to sample year-end 2012. Assuming it takes 18 months to design systems, it will be mid-2014 when NP-5 line cards supporting multiple 100Gbps interfaces are first deployed. EZchip says four or even eight NP-5s could be integrated on a line card, achieving a total packet throughput of 1.6Tbit/s per board.
Meanwhile EZchip’s NP-4 is currently sampling and will ramp in the next few months. Most of the large edge router and switch vendors are designing the NP-4 into their systems, says EZchip.
For more NP-5 detail see the New Electronics article, click here.