Freescale Unveils ARM-Based SoCs for SDN, NFV

The vendor's announcement of its QorIQ LS2 chips comes a week after similar news from Broadcom around its XLP500 products.

Freescale is the latest chip maker to introduce communications processors aimed at fueling the adoption of software-defined networks and network-functions virtualization.

At their Freescale Technology Forum April 8, company officials unveiled the QorIQ LS2 family of systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) that are based on ARM's 64-bit architecture, built on Freescale's Layerscape platform and feature a new datapath that is capable of 40G-bps complex packet processing. The chips address not only the rise of software-defined networks (SDNs) and network-functions virtualization (NFV), but also the growing Internet of things (IoT) and the upcoming 5G networks.

The demands these trends are putting on networks create the need for SoCs that are programmable, armed with accelerators and can support such protocols as OpenFlow for SDN, according to Freescale officials.

SDN and NFV offer the promise of networks that are more programmable, flexible and automated by putting much of the network intelligence now found in the hardware into software. However, just as important is having hardware that is optimized for these new models, according to Tom Deitrich, senior vice president and general manager of Freescale's Digital Networking group.

"There is the need for better flexibility, manageability and scalability in the equipment itself," Deitrich told eWEEK.

Freescale's announcement of its QorIQ LS2085A and LS2045A processors comes a week after Broadcom introduced its own communications chips for SDN, the XLP500 Series. Broadcom demonstrated the SoCs during the Interop Las Vegas show.

"For service providers and data center operators looking to manage dynamically changing workloads and massive data requirements, the XLP500 Series provides the processing performance and flexibility required to deploy new services and cost-effectively scale the network," Chris O'Reilly, senior director of product marketing for processors and wireless infrastructure at Broadcom, said in a statement.

Freescale's QorIQ processors feature eight and four 64-bit ARM Cortex-A57 cores, respectively. The chips feature DDR4 memory controls, eight 10 Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, eight 1GbE interfaces and integrated L2 switch capabilities, according to the company. The L2 switch is designed to work with the datapath engine, which gives the LS2 chips better energy efficiency and opens them up to use in a range of form factors. Tasks such as setup and initialization are abstracted from the hardware, easing the programmability of the chips, and users can leverage accelerators for enhanced performance.

The chips' C-based libraries are commonly used in networking protocols and functions, further improving flexibility and performance, according to company officials.

The QorIQ LS2 chips are among the first of Freescale's chips that will feature ARM's 64-bit ARMV8-A architecture. Dietrich said the company has more plans for processors based on the architecture that will be disclosed later this year.

Broadcom is currently sampling its XLP500 series of chips. The processors are based on the MIPS architecture and offers up to eight cores, according to the company. The chips will support the company's Open NFV platform, integrate with Broadcom's FastPath software to enable interoperability with the vendor's StrataXGS switch series, and virtualize the memory, I/Os and acceleration engines.

The acceleration engines support such applications as deep packet inspection, encryption, network acceleration and storage, according to the company.

The SoCs from Freescale and Broadcom are only the latest efforts by the two vendors to better enable SDN and NFV. Both companies during the Open Networking Summit 2014 in March introduced new software interfaces designed to make it easier for businesses to make the move to SDN. Freescale unveiled its VortiQa SDN solutions, which include the VortiQa open network director and switch software that is optimized to run on QorlIQ chips. It also includes data plane software integrated with commercial-grade OpenFlow protocol.

Broadcom announced the OpenFlow Data Plane Abstraction v1.0 specification, software and API for the Open Networking Forum's OpenFlow 1.3.1 switch.