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Summary:

Cisco today announced a new edge router capable of moving 6.4 terabytes of data — the equivalent of 200 full length movies — per second. Om anticipated the product last week, pointing out that the influx of data traveling over the Web requires better and faster […]

mk-as893_cisco__d_20081110200544Cisco today announced a new edge router capable of moving 6.4 terabytes of data — the equivalent of 200 full length movies — per second. Om anticipated the product last week, pointing out that the influx of data traveling over the Web requires better and faster equipment to manage such complexity and traffic growth. What we also need is a different type of chip.

Routers have to process a lot of data really quickly. They are the air traffic controllers of the Internet: Each time someone types in a URL, the router has to figure out how to get the request to the correct end point. Since the number of possible routes grows every year, as does the number of times a router is consulted, old processors just can’t cut it anymore, especially at the edge where this Cisco router will sit. Instead of making chips for such devices more powerful (and more power-hungry), engineers are following in the footsteps of the server world and adding more cores.

Multicore chips are gaining in use in the embedded world for networking gear, set-top boxes and other applications. In recent routers Cisco had turned to Tensilica, a maker of specialized embedded multicore chips that can take tasks such as routing and video encoding and speed them up without requiring a lot of power. Tensilica calls its products data plane processors or DPUs. Cisco used those DPUs on its QuantumFlow processor.

Cisco is still using the QuantumFlow processor, but has its own custom-designed cores replacing the Tensilica core, inside this latest router, according to sources. However, Intel uses Tensilica cores for audio processing in its new line of systems on a chip built for video players). Other chipmakers, such as Freescale, which in June announced a new family of processors called QorIQ (say “Core IQ”), are tackling the problem of dealing with real-time data in low-power environments with more flexible, multicore embedded processors.

As real-time data processing becomes more important in areas such as reading routing tables and video and audio processing, Tensilica’s DPU cores and Freescale’s chips offer a way to process that information using less power than a general purpose CPU or even a graphics processor that might also be used for the task. Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab are even using the Tensilica cores to try to build an energy-efficient supercomputer. In a connected world where devices have to do more but consume less, this type of design may be the way to go.

  1. Don’t you guys want to stick to blogging about web2.0 things such as blogs and startups?

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  2. @foobar .. how about you being a man enough to leave your name instead of hiding behind foobar !

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  3. Maybe you shoould compute the 6.4 Terrabytes (per second! don’t forget this) into something real ;).
    Like gbit/s. Than throw away half of this. As router vendors tend to double there numbers (“But it’s sending! And receiving!”)

    “old processors just can’t cut it anymore” says who? :-)

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  4. Excuse my spelling, just got up *yawn*

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  5. > Instead of making chips for such devices more powerful (and more power-hungry), engineers are following in the footsteps of the server world and adding more cores.

    Well, it is the other way around. The embedded multicore chips predates the general-purpose ones by about five years. The first shipping embedded multicore came in 1994 (TI video chip with 4 DSP cores), the first general one was really launched in 2001 with Power4. And if you count the Motorola QUICC design, it goes back to 1991.

    > Multicore chips are gaining in use in the embedded world for networking gear, set-top boxes and other applications.

    You forget mobile phones, which have been multicore for many years now. I doubt a single phone shipped in the last three years have contained single-processor chips (apart from some quite specific ASICs for peripheral functionality).

    > Tensilica’s DPU cores and Freescale’s chips offer a way to process that information using less power than a general purpose CPU or even a graphics processor that might also be used for the task.

    That shows some ignorance of embedded multicore… a GPU is a ridiculously inefficient beast built for maximum performance rather than good performance/power ratio. Tensilicas cores are maybe not as fast as the GPU core, but they sure run faster per watt.

    /jakob

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  6. Stacey Higginbotham Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Jakob, in my effort to simplify and general server-centric worldview I should have specified that I’m not talking about a variety DSPs but actually identical processor cores as they do on servers. As for the GPU point, that’s exactly what I’m trying to highlight. For embedded apps we need to think about performance and power.

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  7. Maybe the processors are really not the issue here, maybe it’s the weird OS cisco runs on top of it?

    There are switches in telco that guarantee 99.999999999% availability (fraction of a second of downtime per year), and those switches have been in service for 10 years. Point taken they are used to handle mostly phone-related, but who says the technology that has been around all those years (or maybe more), can’t handle Internet traffic?

    Imagine what today’s hardware could do if manufactures used it to the fullest? If you don’t believe me, think about all those dumb devices sold by d-link, netgear and linksys – put a linux on it and you have a very capable device. Point taken that kind of hardware does not handle TB/s but I’m sure you can follow my analogy.

    By the way, the switches (with the nine “nines”) are by Ericsson and the runtime on them is Erlang. Not as wide spread and popular, but for example projects such as eJabberd, CouchDB, etc. make use of it and demonstrate what’s hidden in the hardware.

    A lot of questions, none answered by a cisco press release. :-)

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