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Intel targets data plane with comms SoC

February 15, 2012 // Rick Merritt

Intel targets data plane with comms SoC

Intel tipped plans for a communications systems SoC, aiming to compete with the likes of Cavium, Freescale and OEM ASICs for high-end packet processing. Crystal Forest will have up to 16 x86 cores and be capable of handling up to 160 million packets per second of Layer 3 traffic.


The chip marks an attempt by Intel to shift up into handling jobs in the so-called data plane, focused on moving bulk packets quickly. To date, the x86 has made significant inroads as a control-plane processor handling less demanding tasks supervising the operations of a communications system.

Intel said Crystal Forest will be available before the end of the year. It targets a broad range of comms systems from “small- to medium-sized business firewalls to high-end routers,” Intel said in a press statement.

The chip is part of a three-step expansion for Intel in comms. Crystal Forest adds jobs typically handled by network processors to the control tasks addressed by current Intel Xeon processors and the company's Jasper Forest SoC.

Following Crystal Forest, Intel plans an SoC that also will address signal processing tasks presumably for systems such as wireless base stations. The future chip will come with new Intel signal processing libraries and tools now in the works.

Few details were available about the Crystal Forest except that it supports up to two-way processing and has interfaces for Ethernet, serial ATA and USB. As for supporting software, Intel said it will release a set of software libraries and algorithms called the Intel Data Plane Development Kit to help accelerate use of the x86 in high-end packet processing. Intel promised the software will deliver five-fold performance increases in x86-based packet processing.

In addition, Crystal Forest will also use Intel’s QuickAssist technology to accelerate specific jobs such in cryptography, compression and deep packet inspection.

Besides high-end embedded processors such as the Cavium Octeon and Freescale QorIQ, Crystal Forest will also be an alternative to some in-house ASICs developed by comms OEMs. The top router makers including Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Cisco, Huawei and Juniper all develop their own data plane ASICs in Silicon Valley offices.

Intel’s Wind River division will make available a Simics model of Crystal Forest. The model aims to help users test various configurations of the chip and start software development for it.

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