Intel unveils Crystal Forest networking platform

February 15, 2012 // 11:09 a.m.

Tags: #asic #crystal-forest #data-centre #hpc #infiniband #intel #networking #supercomputing

If there was any doubt that Intel is looking to strengthen its presence in high-end networking, that's been removed with the announcement of a next-generation communications platform dubbed Crystal Forest.

Intel has long had a presence in the data centre, and not just in CPUs. The company has been producing network interface cards and switching hardware for years, but finds itself very much a bit player in a market dominated by the likes of Cisco and Bay Networks.

The first clue that Intel was looking to change that came when it announced the $125 million purchase of InfiniBand technology from QLogic. Designed to provide high-bandwidth, low-latency network connections in a supercomputing or high-performance computing environment, InfiniBand is a technology which could prove key to Intel's efforts in the field of exa-scale computing.

That purchase could have been a one-off designed to provide an infrastructure for supercomputing systems based around the Many Integrated Cores (MIC) architecture. Today's announcement, however, suggests that it's part of a broader attack on core networking infrastructure by the company.

'The demand for increased network performance will continue to grow as more smart devices connect to the Internet every day,' claims Rose Schooler, general manager of Intel's Communications Infrastructure Division. 'With the popularity of social networking and other high-bandwidth services, such as video and photo uploads/downloads, interactive video, crowdcasting and online gaming, service providers will be challenged to efficiently provision sufficient upstream capacity and manage the spike in network traffic.'

The solution, Schooler claims, is Crystal Forest. Designed as a next-generation platform for scalable high-speed communications, Crystal Forest promises Layer 3 packet forwarding performance of around 160 million packets per second without the use of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) or network-centric specialised co-processors. Instead, Crystal Forest works entirely on existing multi-core Intel processors.

Using a software development kit, the Intel Data Plane Development Kit, the company claims that networking performance on Intel architecture platforms can be boosted fivefold over previous generations. Crystal Forest is also set to include QuickAssist technology, which Intel claims can accelerate specialised networking workloads including cryptography, compression and deep-packet inspection without the need for dedicated hardware.

It's a technology Intel claims is necessary: according to the company's figures, based on the Cisco Visual Networking Index report, 30 minutes of video are uploaded to the internet every minute. By 2015, this is expected to grow to five years of video every second. Using off-the-shelf Intel processors, the company claims, makes a platform based around Crystal Forest more scalable than anything that has come before.

Intel plans to release Crystal Forest later this year, with a simulated implementation available for development use via Wind River.

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