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FPGAs take on 'softly' defined networks

13 Jun 2014  | Julien Happich

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ASICs and ASSPs face tough competition with FPGAs, particularly in easy bug fixing during development and in updating hardware functions on-the-fly once deployed in an application.

The typical trade-off is mostly end-product cost versus design flexibility. Not only FPGAs are getting more cost-competitive with every new node, Xilinx is now promoting them as the only viable solution for what the company calls "Softly" Defined Networks, a step in flexibility that goes far beyond Software Defined Networks (SDN) as they are conceived today.

> A conventional software defined network

Figure 1: A conventional software defined network.

In contrast to traditional SDN architectures, which employ fixed data plane hardware with a narrow southbound API connection to the control plane as shown in figure 1, Softly Defined Networks are based upon a programmable data plane with content-intelligence and a rich southbound API control plane connection, as shown in figure 2.


Figure 2: A "softly" defined network.

By using FPGA fabric instead of ASICs or ASSPs for the data plane, Softly Defined Networks are flexible on both software and hardware counts, while enabling reconfigurable content-aware data pre-processing at wire speed.

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