Netronome has announced support for P4, an open-source language for programming packet-forwarding devices. Netronome will support P4 on its server adapters to make x86 servers better suited for virtual networking.
Virtualized instances of switches, routers, load balancers, firewalls and other network devices can run on general-purpose servers. Indeed, that’s essential to an NFV strategy, where telcos and providers can spin up or spin down network services on demand using off-the-shelf servers rather than dedicated appliances or networking hardware.
Efforts such as Intel’s DPDK aim to make x86 processors better suited for network functions, but companies building out virtual networking infrastructure can also use FPGAs, network processors, or server adapters that have been tweaked for networking.
That’s where Netronome and P4 come into play. The company is releasing an Integrated Development Environment (IDE), Netronome Programmer Studio 6.0, that includes a P4 compiler and optional C-based modules for its Agilio Intelligent Server Adapter line.
As mentioned, P4 is a language that lets operators program network devices down to the chip level to customize how packets are processed. By adding P4 support to its Agilio CX and LX adapters, Netronome aims to give cloud IaaS providers and telcos more flexibility to deliver services and add features.
“OVS [Open vSwitch] or vRouter can be done in an x86, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best use of a Xeon processor,” said Ron Renwick, Netronome’s Sr. Director of Product Marketing. Intel would likely dispute that claim, but customers can judge for themselves.
Renwick says the combination of P4 and its adapters can be applied to use cases such as new protocol support, in-band network telemetry, and more. And because P4 is an abstraction language, any code written in P4 for Netronome should be able to run on any other processor or adapter that supports the language. However, cross-platform interoperability testing in still in its early stages.
The IDE is available in beta now (you have to sign up at the Open-NFP site), with general availability scheduled for July 2016.
If you’d to learn more about P4, check out the Packet Pushers interview with Nick McKeown, a Stanford professor who’s been instrumental in P4’s development.