Building Support for SDI with Intel Ethernet at Mobile World Congress

It seems ironic to be blogging about wired Ethernet in conjunction with the world’s largest wireless technology show, Mobile World Congress.

But it’s actually very relevant because the “wireless” network is mostly wired and Ethernet is becoming a bigger part of this infrastructure.

That’s why we teamed with Cisco for a joint demonstration of a new Ethernet technology at MWC that shows the potential for virtualized Ethernet as a key part of Intel’s software-defined infrastructure initiative.

SDI is Intel’s vision of the future of the data center – both for enterprises and service providers. In an SDI data center, the network, compute and storage infrastructure are virtualized and managed by orchestration software to enable IT – or applications – to dynamically define and assign resources.

Compute and storage virtualization have been ongoing for some time, but the physical network is just now being virtualized via network virtualization overlays. NVOs are new packet encapsulation techniques that allow the industry to realize some of the same flexibility that we see today in virtualized compute and storage.

Intel has supported acceleration for early NVO protocols (Geneve, VXLAN, and NVGRE) in our Intel® Ethernet Controller XL710, codenamed Fortville. And now we’re supporting the latest NVO protocol - Network Service Header.

NSH is an IETF standard originally developed by Cisco that is an important advance in the ability to create service chains, making network design easier by routing packets through specific network services (firewall, encryption, etc.) in a virtualized network. When NSH is used for service chains, it simplifies the creation of complex services.

Which brings us to MWC where Intel and Cisco demonstrated an NFV security service-chaining application based on NSH using Intel’s Red Rock Canyon-based customer reference board.

Red Rock Canyon is a new breed of Ethernet product that integrates an Ethernet switch with high-speed network interface controllers. Red Rock Canyon includes PCIe 3.0 interfaces as a low latency way to connect Intel® Xeon-based servers to the network. Red Rock Canyon is now sampling to customers and will launch later this year.

It’s important to note that we’re supporting NSH in firmware at wire speed. This is an innovation that we originally developed for the XL710, which is now available in Red Rock Canyon too. This flexible protocol support is a critical precursor to Ethernet’s role as the interconnect for SDI.

The mission of my team is to provide Intel Ethernet network virtualization and switch innovations that enable the SDI vision.

This means that in addition to controllers, adapters and switches, we’ll be building our flexible Intel® Ethernet into Xeon CPUs and other devices to integrate it more completely with the compute node and with our SDI architecture.

The network may be the last component of the data center to be virtualized, but that is happening right now and it is a major milestone for the promise of SDI to be fully realized.