HEIDELBERG, Germany, July 29, 2022– NEC Laboratories Europe, Axbryd and the University of Rome Tor Vergata continue to receive top recognition for improving the efficiency of cloud-native network platforms with their award-winning research, “hXDP: Efficient Software Packet Processing on FPGA NICs” published in the Association of Computer Machinery’s flagship magazine, Communications of the ACM.
Key drivers for cloud-native solutions include the growth of computing power for general-purpose processors (CPUs), hardware and software virtualization and decreasing hardware costs. Yet, despite these advances, network workloads are growing faster than performance improvements for CPU hardware, which puts at risk the viability of cloud-native solutions.
To overcome the issue, software and technology providers are deploying domain-specific hardware accelerators designed to process high-throughput, low-latency network workloads and improve the energy efficiency of data centers. However, current hardware accelerators are an imperfect solution – each has its own programming model and features, and integrating them into existing network platforms is costly and time-consuming.
hXDP solves this issue by allowing hardware accelerators using field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to speak the same language as general purpose processors (CPUs). Winner of the 2020 Jay Lepreau Best Paper at USENIX OSDI’20, one of computer science’s most prestigious conferences, hXDP technology lets developers use FPGA-based hardware accelerators (sometimes also called infrastructure processing units or data processing units) with regular Linux programs, without relying on complex, hardware-specific programming languages.
This is especially relevant when considering edge computing scenarios. Edge computing is a core capability for future cloud computing, enabling the processing of data at the edge of a network – as close to its source as possible.
To bring cloud solutions to the edge, many leading cloud-based technology providers are adopting eBPF, a new Linux-based networking technology. However, eBPF can only run on CPUs and cannot easily leverage domain-specific accelerators. Using hXDP overcomes this limitation. Roberto Bifulco, head of Intelligent Software Systems at NEC Laboratories Europe, said, “hXDP transforms the way we deal with hardware in network platforms. Instead of adapting each application to use the specific features of new hardware platforms, we use hXDP to automatically translate applications. These can then leverage hardware accelerators efficiently and at their maximum speed.”
While hXDP provides compatibility between Linux network applications and domain-specific hardware, it also leverages the benefits of network accelerators. For example, hXDP can lower processing latency for network data, reducing by a factor of 10 the time it takes for a network packet to reach infrastructure software and begin processing it. This significantly improves the performance of applications that require real-time processing, such as augmented and virtual reality, and control of unmanned aerial vehicles. Adds Bifulco, “hXDP is a key building block to enable these devices to offload computations to a remote edge computing infrastructure.”
hXDP has a number of implications for how industry and research organizations manage technology development. Alongside eBPF, hXDP can be integrated seamlessly into DevOps pipelines ensuring that development is not interrupted. Continues Bifulco, “Imagine that you need to introduce something new into a development environment that changes your language, the way of programming and all the downstream tools that you have. You need to rewrite the tests that you are running – everything. Using eBPF and hXDP this is not the case when developing for these new infrastructure or data processing units.”
In 2020, data centers accounted for 1% of global electricity demand; in some countries this is expected to rise by 2030. hXDP will help offset electricity use by speeding up the adoption process for more efficient hardware. This will reduce the need for physical infrastructure, improving data center efficiency and reducing the overall carbon footprint of data centers and technology manufactures.
Kamiya. G, Kvarnström. O. 2019. Data centres and energy – from global headlines to local headaches? International Energy Agency. URL: https://www.iea.org/commentaries/data-centres-and-energy-from-global-headlines-to-local-headaches
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NEC Laboratories Europe research and develop cutting-edge technology to create innovative social solutions. Located in Heidelberg, Germany, major research areas of NEC Laboratories Europe include artificial intelligence, blockchain security, 5G and 6G networks, and IoT platforms. These technologies promote NEC Group solutions for a better society in the fields of digital health, safer cities, public services and communication infrastructure.
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