SAN JOSE, Calif. — Intel would be hard pressed to find a better spokesman for its communications initiative than Kelly Herrell. The founding CEO of software startup Vyatta is the man behind the code running in a new family of x86 servers announced today by Brocade Communications that act as virtual edge routers, undercutting costs of Cisco routers.
The Brocade Vyatta 5600 vRouter pumps out as much as 10 Gbit/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 reality -- it'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.
"Now we get 10G line rates per core with 64-byte 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 infrastructure -- it was always assumed it was all done with ASICs, but that's no longer true," he added.