• November 1, 2006
  • ATCA

Telecoms equipment can be cool (honestly)

Many years ago, at a previous company, I spent my days writing assembler code for the 68302 processor and watched enviously as other (more fortunate) engineers wrote "modern" C++ applications for Pentium-II desktop PCs. In the canteen at lunchtime, no-one wanted to listen to my witty anecdotes about humorous 68K register names. At a technology level, embedded systems just weren’t "cool".

However, times are changing. Desktop PCs may now offer dual core processors but, in reality, todays technology revolution is driven by a telecoms infrastructure that enables rich applications based on VoIP, Multimedia services and mobile communications. On the back of this revolution, the technology inside telecoms infrastructure equipment is getting pretty cool.

Wind River today announced Carrier Grade Linux support for the Sun Microsystems UltraSPARC T1 processor, a device which can include up to eight cores (that’s at least four times as many cores as are in a desktop machine) and offers a glimpse into the future of network equipment.

So what’s so cool about this device? Well, until recently each blade in a chassis based telecoms system had a distinct purpose; there were blades for the application plane, blades for the control plane and blades for the data plane. However, Sun’s latest CP3060 ATCA blade, running an UltraSPARC T1 multi-core processor, is capable of performing all of these multiple roles simultaneously.

The UltraSPARC T1 processor, which includes up to eight individual cores each of which runs four threads, does this by offering it’s resources as (up to) 32 virtual processors. So an ATCA chassis populated with a number of Sun CP3060 blades could offer hundreds of virtual processors each of which can be allocated to either application plane, control plane or data plane processing. This offers the possibility of consolidating several blades into a single slot and therefore reducing the size of the overall system.

The performance of the UltraSPARC T1 [Wikipedia reference] is impressive too. The device uses hardware multi-threading to minimize idle time in each core which in turn increases performance per watt. That means that the UltraSPARC T1 processor only requires about 35% of the power budget of an ATCA slot meaning that it runs cooler and it leaves more of the power budget available for other features such as increased memory. What you end with is increased processing power for the same power budget.

Crucially, this improved power efficiency leads to a reduced power/cooling requirement for the same processing power. In fact, for this reason the UltraSPARC T1 has already won an award for being the Worlds First Eco-Responsible Processor. Any technology which attempts to bridge the gap between our hunger for technology and our need to cut energy consumption is to be welcomed.

The kind of flexibility offered by the UltraSPARC T1 processor will be crucial as the IP Multimedia Subsystem or IMS (a topic which I’ll cover over the coming weeks) begins to roll out. As well as the core benefits offered by ATCA and a CGL compliant operating system (high-availability, manageability, etc), IMS also demands exactly the kind of high performance and scalability which the UltraSPARC T1 processor offers.

Despite what you may think, telecoms infrastructure equipment can be quite cool…