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Drinking From the Fire hose

Michael C. Richardson, Solidum Systems Inc.

As data speeds get higher and higher, while CPU and memory speeds are not increasing at quite the same rate it is becoming less and less practical to build firewalls, bridges, routers and even file servers out of generic hardware with general purpose operating systems. Unix workstations were long since replaced with by dedicated software routers, and the trend recently has been to replace most of the switching functions done in software by dedicated ASICs. But, ASICs are hard for end users to change, and Linux has been very successful at providing a platform on which to build network devices.

But, how can software only solutions keep up with gigabit Ethernet, OC48 and even higher speeds made possible via wave division multiplexing? A typical Linux box can not deal with 100Mb/s. The answer is indisputably smarter NIC cards. The disputed part of the answer is "how smart?" (and how expensive).

The Solidum PaxPort.100 is a 100Mb/s intelligent NIC card that offloads the CPU from sorting packets. A Linux driver has been produced and it will be discussed. Some experience debugging drivers that must move a lot of data will be related. But, more challenging still is our plan to further integrate packet classification technology into the Linux networking stack.

Gb+ Ethernet designs are in development.


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