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Let me start this out by saying that I was thrilled to see Intel present at a NFD event!  While Intel is well known in the network space for their NICs, they are most well known for their powerful line of processors, boards, and controllers.  Most would argue that this doesn’t make them a ‘traditional’ network vendor but, as we all know, things are rapidly changing in the network space.  As more and more network processing moves from hardware to software the Intel’s of the world will have an increasingly large role to play in the network market.

Check out the following presentations they gave at the recent NFD10 event…

Intel Intro and Strategy

Intel Open Network Platform Solutions for NFV

Intel Software Defined Infrastructure: Tips, Tricks and Tools for Network Design and Optimization

Here are some of my thoughts on the presentations that I thought were worth highlighting…

The impact of software and NFV
Intel made some interesting observations comparing telco companies using big hardware to Google using SDN and NFV.  Most telco companies are still heavily reliant on big, high performance, hardware driven switches that can cost into the 10s of millions of dollars.  On the flip side, companies like Google have spent the better part of the last decade figuring out how to deliver similar services and functions in software running on generic hardware.  The cost savings are clear. The claim was made that the cost to move bits from point A to point B can be up to 10 times more for a normal Telco than Google.  The performance gap between hardware and software forwarding is closing quickly.  As this gap closes we’ll also likely see the price of higher end routing and switching platforms drop significantly.  The point was also made that performing these functions in software gives you significantly greater network agility.  If you need a new feature, you don’t necessarily need to wait for new hardware that supports the new software functions.

Software Optimizations
I’ve known for some time that Intel was doing work in the SDN and NFV space.  What I didn’t know ,or realize, was that they’re leaders in this space.  If you watch all the NFD10 Intel videos, it becomes obvious that Intel is making a serious investment in the network space.  On top of that, they’re not doing any of this behind closed doors.  They’re working with the open projects and contributing a lot of their advances directly to the community.  Some of the statistics from the presentation are just staggering.  The newer Xeon chips have 16 cores in them (when did that happen?  Wow).  The advancements that Intel introduced with DPDK enable packet processing at rates 25 times faster than a typical Linux distribution.  Intel’s goal (which it sounds like they just hit) was to do 40 Gb/s soft packet switching with a 256 byte packet. 

I’ll repeat my earlier sentiment.  Intel presenting at a NFD was huge! I think this is truly a sign of the times and a direction we’ll continue seeing networking as a whole moving towards.  The benefits of moving functions from hardware to software (or hardware assisted software) is something we can’t ignore.  I truly hope that Intel comes back to another NFD event!

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