DPDK: one of the most important enabling technologies for NFV

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Sep 25, 2014

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We know…  there are already more telecoms and networking acronyms in circulation than there are human brain cells to store them. But here’s one you should at least know about (so you can put it to work in meetings to impress your friends and confound your enemies).  DPDK stands for Data Plane Development Kit and it’s already risen to prominence at the electronics end of the market as it’s fundamental to the next phase in telecoms development.

One of the reasons Network Functions Virtualisation has become a live issue now (rather than, say, five years ago) is that commodity hardware - in particular multi-core, high performance processors made in the main by Intel - are now deemed capable of handling all but the highest of the high packet loads that are a feature of data networks today.

Most experts would still say that big iron routers. for instance, won’t in the immediate future be replaced by commodity servers, but just about everything else that currently stands between one end of a data session and the other in the form of some sort of custom hardware-driven box, can now be virtualised and run on commodity hardware.

The DPDK is a set of libraries and drivers for fast packet processing on x86 platforms. Using these, developers can invoke all those basic tasks at high speed - such as sending and receiving packets, using algorithms to capture specific packets and so on. These are the fundamental building blocks that enable developers to go on to build things like packet forwarding, firewall apps and so on, on top.

When ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) arrived 20 to 30 years ago they created a revolution in packet processing, allowing low-cost end-user and core network devices to work on tasks that would have needed vast “disintegrated” computers to accomplish previously. Intel’s DPDK might be seen as enabler of the ‘virtual’ or software ASIC, thus completing the circle.

Video above: Attendees at the DPDK Summit tell us why Intel’s DPDK has risen to prominance. It allows people to do in pure software on commodity hardware what you needed specific, custom-made ASICs to do before, and for that reason it is one of the enabling technologies for  Network Functions Virtualisation.

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