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How well is ARM NFV positioned for NFV deployments?

It's ARM vs. Intel again, as the two competitors each look to become the leading silicon microprocessor chip provider for NFV applications. ARM NFV could prove to be a challenger to Intel.

In terms of microprocessor chips, it's typically an ARM vs. Intel battle. Now, ARM Holdings hopes to challenge Intel as a primary silicon supplier for network virtualization applications. ARM's ability to create a consortium that develops a broad network functions virtualization independent software vendor, or ISV, ecosystem will be a critical factor in whether ARM NFV gains market share for NFV workloads.

Service providers have unique workload requirements that challenge semiconductor manufacturers. Network equipment ranges from large, highly scalable platforms that support millions of users to small access devices, like customer premises equipment (CPE), which cost $1,000 or less. In addition, the network industry specifically requires the following:

  • Low latency to support real-time applications like voice and video;
  • High reliability; and
  • Efficient power, space, cooling and high-density processing.

NFV silicon options: ARM vs. Intel

Intel is the dominate supplier of microprocessor chips that power PCs and servers. Intel has taken the lead in NFV deployments, moving into mobile core networks, video, IP management subsystem and virtual CPE spaces. Via its Network Builders program, Intel has attracted a large number of network ISVs to develop NFV platforms and applications on its x86 architecture.

ARM is a British-based semiconductor manufacturer known for its leadership in mobile phone silicon. Recently, ARM partners have delivered 64-bit chipsets that are competitive with Intel's latest x86 offerings. ARM and its partners believe these 64-bit chips are well-positioned to challenge Intel for NFV applications -- especially in terms of low power, price, density and data-plane-intensive performance.

To further drive ARM NFV, ARM and its partners have joined a number of NFV standards efforts, some of which include Open Platform for NFV, Open Network Automation Platform, Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter and Data Plane Development Kit. Their goal is to reduce the barriers to porting NFV applications to their ARM platforms. ARM partners work with all the major network equipment providers, including Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia.

Leading ARM NFV silicon suppliers include:

  • Qualcomm and NXP Semiconductors
  • Broadcom
  • Cavium Inc.

ARM is working to recruit NFV ISVs to port their software to 64-bit ARM chips via its recently announced ARM Infrastructure Developer Community. Current members of the community include Canonical Ltd., Core Network Dynamics, Trend Micro Inc., Telco Systems and Enea-acquired Qosmos. ARM currently runs proofs of concept in NFV labs with several tier-one service providers, including China Mobile. While Intel holds prominent ground in NFV deployments, ARM NFV is gradually making headway.

Next Steps

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This was last published in June 2017

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