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Xeon Scalable Scales Networks

November 28, 2017

Author: Bob Wheeler

Because cloud and service-provider markets are colliding, Intel’s latest Xeon family is as important to network processing as it is to servers. We’ve written about many of the improvements the Purley platform delivers, including the new Lewisburg south bridge. But Skylake-SP implements many microarchitecture and hardware upgrades that increase network-processing performance, too.

The obvious changes to Skylake-SP relative to Broadwell-EP include more cores/threads as well as greater memory and PCI Express bandwidth. In addition, Lewisburg boosts QuickAssist crypto acceleration compared with Coleto Creek. For some time, Intel has been using DPDK Layer 3–forwarding benchmarks to demonstrate Xeon’s generational improvements. In this case, Skylake-SP delivers 281Gbps of throughput for 256-byte packets using 16 CPUs (32 threads), whereas Broadwell-EP delivers 159Gbps using 10 CPUs (20 threads). (The test employed only a single socket for both generations.) On a per-core basis, Skylake-SP increases throughput by 10.5%.

Hardware acceleration yields straightforward performance gains, and Intel’s DPDK IPSec benchmark shows Lewisburg delivering 110Gbps of large-packet throughput. But Skylake-SP also includes microarchitecture improvements that boost the performance of software-based crypto processing. They comprise AES-instruction enhancements, the use of AVX-512 for hashing (SHA), and availability of two AVX-512 units in some models. For an AES-256+SHA-1 example, Skylake-SP increases the bytes encrypted per clock cycle by 36% compared with Broadwell-EP.

Unlike most competitors’ products, Intel Xeons aren’t purpose-built for network processing. Their integration lags that of Cavium’s Octeons and NXP’s QorIQ SoCs, which provide Ethernet ports, crypto and compression accelerators, and at least Layer 2–processing hardware. But Intel’s relentless architecture upgrades in each Xeon generation, combined with its ongoing investments in DPDK software, enable SDN and NFV approaches to flexibly deliver more throughput than SoC competitors.

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