Xilinx introduces SDN-based 'softly' defined network concept

At Interop Las Vegas this week, Xilinx, Inc. (NASDAQ: XLNX) has unveiled its approach to expanding programmability and intelligence from the control to the data plane, which it terms "Softly" Defined Networks. The design of the programmable data plane functions is enabled by the new Software Defined Specification Environment for Networking (SDNet), with functional specifications automatically compiled into Xilinx's “All Programmable” FPGAs and SoCs.

At Interop Las Vegas this week, Xilinx, Inc. (NASDAQ: XLNX) has unveiled its approach to expanding programmability and intelligence from the control to the data plane, which it terms "Softly" Defined Networks. The design of the programmable data plane functions is enabled by the new Software Defined Specification Environment for Networking (SDNet), with functional specifications automatically compiled into Xilinx's “All Programmable” FPGAs and SoCs.

In contrast to traditional software-defined network (SDN) architectures, which Xilinx says employ fixed data plane hardware with a narrow southbound API connection to the control plane, Softly Defined Networks are based upon a programmable data plane with content-intelligence and a rich southbound API control plane connection.

"Xilinx is combining new software-based design technologies with All Programmable silicon devices to expand the possibilities for next generation smarter networks and data centers," said Hemant Dhulla, vice president, communications business unit at Xilinx. "The revolutionary flexibility, capabilities, and productivity afforded by SDNet, in conjunction with the flexibility of Xilinx's All Programmable devices, deliver the industry's first software defined data plane solution for Softly Defined Networks."

Softly Defined Networks enable multiple disruptive capabilities, the company claims, such as support of wire-speed services that are independent of protocol complexity; provisioning of per-flow, flexible services; and support for in-service "hitless" upgrades while operating at 100% line rate.

These capabilities enable carriers and cable MSOs to dynamically provision unique, differentiated services without any interruption to the existing service or the need for hardware requalification or truck roll, Xilinx asserts. This will also create higher revenue potential for service providers, in addition to capex, opex, and time to market savings, the company adds.

Network equipment providers can realize similar benefits from the Softly Defined Network platform, which enables extensive product differentiation through the deployment of content-aware data plane hardware that is programmed with the SDNet environment, the vendor asserts.

Additional benefits that Xilinx predicts from its new Softly Defined Network approach include:

  • Improved, highly flexible quality of service (QoS)
  • Flow and session aware capabilities
  • Fully programmable hardware data plane and I/O
  • Support for network functions virtualization (NFV) at wire speed including user-defined, custom capabilities
  • Scalable line rates from 1G to 400G.

"The first phase of SDN enables data center and WAN operators to customize and improve their network in software. In the next phase, we can expect a drive beyond fixed-function hardware data planes. Adding high-level programmability and more sophisticated functionality to the data plane, accessed via standard software APIs, means that networking resources will be managed more intelligently and efficiently, increasing the rate of innovation," said Nick McKeown, professor of computer science at Stanford University.

"Xilinx's introduction of a software-defined specification environment to create and modify network elements from high-level descriptions carries implications far beyond OpenFlow protocol-compatible SDN," said Loring Wirbel, senior analyst at The Linley Group. "Significant characteristics of both control plane and data plane processing can be defined at the time the network node is established. This type of tool, which allows system architects to specify and deploy exact application services without requiring an understanding of the underlying device architecture or a complex programming language, has not been offered by device manufacturers, OEMs, or SDN software specialists to date."

Xilinx is holding a demonstration of SDNet at booth #2066 at Interop 2014.

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