Unleashing Scalable Innovation at Network Edge

Prem Jonnalagadda | Apr 21, 2020

Earlier this year, our partner Lanner invited us to speak on a panel-based webinar on building scalable infrastructure at the network edge. It was an interesting discussion and I invite you to listen to a replay.

We were invited to the webinar because we had worked with Lanner on its HybridTCA™ 6600 Series MEC hardware platform based on our Barefoot Tofino. On the webinar, Lanner CTO, Sven Freudenfeld, called this product a “mini data center in a box for the edge” because of its extensive pre-integrated features including programmable networking, storage, and compute power.

Also featured on the webinar were Noviflow and Fortinet, both of which make use of Tofino programmability. One example of this is carrier-grade network address translation (CG-NAT), which utilizes both company’s technology. With Fortinet’s FortiGate VNF providing the CG-NAT functionality, along with NoviFlow’s SDN forwarding plane, they were able to make use of Tofino’s flexibility by programming load balancing and CG-NAT forwarding directly within the data plane. This provides dramatically faster response time and frees up CPU cycles for other processing. In NoviFlow’s Cyber Mapper security software, the company has also pushed exclusion-list filtering to the Tofino switch, making performance noticeably faster.

Where Tofino Fits

But when you say network edge, some clarification is necessary. Many people think of the edge being located on the customer premises, where fixed function routers, firewalls, VPNs, and other services are replaced with virtual network functions (VNFs) that can provide SD-WAN and other networking services.

That’s not the edge we’re talking about. The new Lanner product, for example, is focused on the carrier edge, which is an emerging new network architecture with very high compute power servers and network appliances located in carrier points of presence (PoP).

Multi-access edge compute (MEC) is a leading specification for these edge servers that is organized and developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). MEC servers are designed to be used in applications such as radio access networks, video analytics, location services, Internet-of-Things (IoT), augmented reality, optimized local content distribution, and data caching among others.

Hybrid TCA image

Lanner HybridTCA™ 6600 Series

For MEC servers to be successful, they need performance, both compute and network, as well as network agility. These are the reasons Lanner selected the Barefoot Tofino switch ASIC for the Lanner HybridTCA 6600 Series platform.

The chassis-based server utilizes up to (2) P4-programmable, Barefoot Tofino Ethernet switch ASICs, with compute performance provided with up to (12) 2nd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processors. The platform also has configurable storage. Lanner launched the new MEC platform with support for Fortinet’s FortiGate Secure Gateway (SecGW) and Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) VNFs, along with NoviFlow's CyberMapper programmable networking software.

Benefits of Barefoot Tofino at the Edge

In the webinar, Sven Freudenfeld also spoke about why the company built this new product around Barefoot Tofino. He said edge networks require performance and programmability to better serve the high bandwidth needs of consumers and service providers. He also noted the new product has a dramatic cost advantage due to its integration of programmable switches and compute nodes.

One early customer for the Lanner platform is a carrier that is rolling out an IPTV network and needed load balancing to distribute incoming data to a pool of security appliances. A typical implementation would have utilized top-of-rack switches connected to a dedicated load balancer appliance in front of security servers. This configuration was complex to install and maintain, and the cost was several million dollars.

However, when the customer used the new Lanner switch, it was able to program the data plane to provide load balancing without a separate appliance. By eliminating the standalone load balancer, the customer cut costs in half, lessened the complexity, and reduced power consumption dramatically.

Sven has spoken with several customers who are considering the MEC server for private LTE, for the programmability of network telemetry, and then others who want to reconfigure the data plane performance to match the needs of different attached devices, ranging from IoT sensor to mobile devices streaming video.

Sven said he believes the redistribution of compute workload from core to edge is just beginning – he estimates that 1% of data is processed at the edge and that will grow to 25% in the next few years.

The Lanner HybridTCA 6600 Series is the first in a new category of high-performance MEC servers. It offers the right mix of programmability, throughput, and compute to meet the needs of the evolving edge data center.