IEEE Network

Creating advanced functions on network processors: Experience and perspectives

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In this article we present five case studies of advanced networking functions that detail how a network processor (NP) can provide high performance and also the necessary flexibility compared with ASICs. We first review the basic NP system architectures, and describe the IBM PowerNP architecture from the data plane as well as the control plane point of view. We introduce models for the programmer's views of NPs that facilitate a global understanding of NP software programming. Then, for each case study, we present results from prototypes as well as general considerations that apply to a wider range of system architectures. Specifically, we investigate the suitability of NPs for QoS (active queue management and traffic engineering), header processing (GPRS tunneling protocol), intelligent forwarding (load balancing without flow disruption), payload processing (code interpretation and justin-time compilation in active networks), and protocol stack termination (SCTP). Finally, we summarize the key features as revealed by each case study, and conclude with remarks on the future of NPs.