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All Change for Packet Processing
Simon Stanley

The packet processing landscape has changed significantly over the last 12 months. 100G network processors (NPUs) are replacing older 10G/40G network processors, 28nm integrated multicore processors will quickly replace older devices and the Intel Xeon multicore processors are challenging both network processors and integrated multicore processors for many fast path packet processing applications.

This is one of many key findings in the latest issue of Heavy Reading Components Insider, "TEMs Rate Multicore & Network Processor Suppliers for 2013," based on an exclusive worldwide survey that drew responses from 88 professionals that represent almost 60 different equipment vendors and system manufacturers worldwide. The report covers the use of specific general-purpose processors, communications processors, integrated multicore processors and NPUs, as well as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). The report provides a unique insight into which devices telecom equipment manufacturers use and how they rate each vendor. The report also includes information on what performance and features will be required for future multicore processors and NPUs and valuable trend data from previous surveys in 2006 and 2010.

The rapid growth of mobile Internet and cloud computing is driving demand for packet processing solutions and accelerating the adoption of higher speed interfaces. Many systems at the edge of the network require 10Gbit/s uplinks to support 100Mbit/s and 1Gbit/s connections to subscribers. Most systems at the core of the network or in the Metro network support 100Gbit/s interfaces. Demand for new services and service provider flexibility is driving a shift towards virtualized data centers and software-defined networking (SDN). Multicore and network processors with multiple 10Gbit/s, 40Gbit/s and 100Gbit/s interfaces are at the heart of this new flexible network.

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), EZchip Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: EZCH), Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) and Netronome continue to develop new NPUs. 100G capable NPUs are used by a significant number of the companies covered in the survey, replacing older 10Gbit/s and 40Gbit/s devices. The Intel IXP28xx devices are still being used by a significant minority of companies.

Broadcom, Cavium Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM) and Freescale Semiconductor Inc. dominate the market for integrated multicore processors. Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (Nasdaq: AMCC), LSI Corp. (NYSE: LSI), Marvell and Tilera Corp. are also developing new integrated multicore processors. 40/45nm devices have replaced older devices, and 28nm devices sampling or in development are being used by a surprisingly large number of companies. Smaller integrated multicore processors with one or two cores are competing directly with communications processors. Communications processors are also available from Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Mindspeed Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: MSPD), PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS) and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN).

General-purpose multicore processors have been extensively used in networking systems or control plane applications. The introduction of the Intel data plane development kit (DPDK) has significantly increased the use of Intel Xeon processors for applications that require both control plane and data plane packet processing functions. x86-derived general-purpose processors are available from both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD). The results documented in the report confirms that Intel dominates this market. The latest processors are being quickly adopted with the Intel Xeon E5-2400/2600 processors being used by more than 50 percent of the companies covered in the survey.

Multicore and network processors are critical components for any networking system. There are several clear market leaders that have delivered on the current generation of devices. The initial indications are that system developers are moving quickly to take advantage of the latest generation of 28/32nm devices that integrate more cores, bigger memories and higher speed interfaces.

Simon Stanley, Analyst, Heavy Reading Components Insider


This report, TEMs Rate Multicore & Network Processor Suppliers for 2013, is available for $1,595. For more information, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/commchip.

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