Intel Expands Networking Strategy With High-End Platform

The chip maker introduced Highland Forest, which includes Xeon E5-2600 v2 CPUs and the new Coleto Creek chipset.

Intel officials see a significant growth opportunity to bring the company's Intel Architecture into a rapidly evolving networking space.

Enterprises, cloud service providers and telecommunications companies are looking for flexible and efficient networking infrastructures that are faster, more scalable and more cost-effective than what is available now, according to Rose Schooler, vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group.

The chip maker's x86 Intel Architecture is the dominant silicon platform in servers and is making strides in the storage space. Intel can leverage the architecture to businesses and service providers what they need in their networking environments, Schooler and Steve Price, general manager of Intel's Communications Infrastructure Division, said during a press conference Dec. 4.

Price noted the networking chips—both Xeon and low-power Atom products—Intel offers for low-end, midrange and high-end environments that cover a range of capabilities and costs while giving businesses a common architecture and development platform.

"It provides [customers] a common platform that scales from the low end to the high end, which minimizes their investment in software," he said.

Intel added to its portfolio with the introduction of the Highland Forest platform, which combines the vendor's Xeon E5-2600 v2 CPU with its new Coleto Creek chipset. Price said Highland Forest—which can pack up to 20 2.4GHz "Ivy Bridge" CPU cores—will offer two to six times the performance of the previous Crystal Forest platform, which was launched in October 2012.

Highland Forest, with Intel's Data Plane Development Kit, can deliver up to 255 million packets per second (p/s)—more than the 140 million p/s from Crystal Forest—as well as security capabilities of 110G bps of IPsec and 200G bps SSL security for encrypted traffic. Intel also offers Hyperscan technology for deep packet inspection, a capability inherited when the chip maker bought Sensory Networks earlier this fall.

Intel officials are making aggressive moves to expand the reach of its silicon beyond servers and into other parts of the data center. Schooler said the company has been making products for networking gear for about a decade, and has made significant strides in recent years.

It's also made several acquisitions—such as of Sensory Networks, Ethernet chip maker Fulcrum Microsystems and networking software maker Aepona, whose technology enables telecoms and cloud service providers to offer more services on their networks.

Intel is looking to take advantage of the growth opportunity networking represents, Schooler said. The market Intel is targeting is about $16 billion, and the chip maker currently has about 5 percent of it. Along with its x86 architecture, Intel also is developing accelerator chips for such jobs as packet inspection and encryption.

One of the larger opportunities like with telecom companies, which are increasingly under pressure to deal with a rapidly growing number of devices that are connecting to their networks and generating massive amounts of new traffic. The cost of the growing bandwidth demand is outpacing the amount of revenue created by new services and connectivity, Schooler said.

Telecoms in the past have relied on specialized purpose-built networking gear, which is costly and relatively inflexible. The companies are looking for ways to reduce capital and operating expenses while creating more flexible, automated and dynamic networks that can help them address the growing bandwidth demands. Software-defined networking (SDN), which creates networks that are more automated and easier to program, is growing in popularity.

Chip makers also are looking to create the general-purpose silicon platform that telecoms will want to adopt, and the Intel officials said their x86 Intel Architecture makes the most sense. Leveraging a common platform like the Intel Architecture can bring a 4:1 consolidation ratio, according to Schooler.

The architecture may not be the answer to every network function, but it can be the foundation for what the telecom companies deploy, she said. In addition, the chip maker is driving open standards through its participation in such groups as the vendor-driven OpenDaylight Project SDN initiative and support for the OpenFlow SDN protocol.

Intel officials in April laid out the company's strategy around SDN and network-function virtualization (NFV), including introducing reference architectures to enable enterprises, cloud service providers and telecom companies to more quickly adopt the new networking technologies.