Netronome demos an OpenFlow reference design

Created March 7, 2013
Technologies and Products

Fabless semiconductor company Netronome has demonstrated a flow processor chip implementing the OpenFlow protocol, an open standard implementation for software-defined networking (SDN).

Operators and content service providers view SDN as a way to address changing traffic requirements in the data centre and the network. With SDN, operators can add their own intelligence to tailor how traffic is routed. 
“What OpenFlow does is let you control the hardware that is handling the traffic in the network,” said David Wells, co-founder of Netronome and vice president of technology. “The value to the end customer is what they can do with that, in conjunction with other things they are doing.”  
The demonstration took place at a recent Open Networking User Group meeting. Netronome’s reference design uses an NFP-3240 flow processor on a PCI Express (PCIe) card running the latest 1.3.0 version of OpenFlow while other Netronome software is executed on the host server where the card resides. 
The NFP-3240 classifies traffic and implements the actions to be taken on the flows. The software on the host exposes the OpenFlow application programming interface (API) enabling the OpenFlow controller – the equipment that oversees how traffic is handled – to address the NFP device and influence how packet flows are processed.
Early OpenFlow implementations use Ethernet switch chips that interface to a CPU that provides the OpenFlow API. However, the Ethernet chips have limited-sized look-up tables of up to 100,000 entries, says Wells. The OpenFlow controller writes to the table to dictate how traffic is handled. “To really do SDN, you need hardware platforms that can handle many more flows than these switches,” said Wells.
This is where the NFP processor is being targeted: a programmable device driven by software rather than the hardware architecture. 
Last year Netronome announced its next-generation flow processor family, the NFP-6xxx, samples of which are expected at the year end.  
By Roy Rubenstein

See Also: 

Press release: Netronome demonstrates industry’s first OpenFlow design built on flow processors at inaugural open networking user group meeting
Gazettabyte: Netronome uses its network flow processor for OpenFlow


This article was written
by Roy Rubenstein

is the editor of and has been researching and writing about the telecom and semiconductor industries for over 20 years.