August 23, 2010

Virtual Router Smashes Speed Records

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MIT Technology Review reports that researchers in South Korea have built a networking router that transmits data at record speeds from components found in most high-end desktop computers. A team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology created the router, which transmits data at nearly 40 gigabytes per second--many times faster than the previous record for such a device.

The techniques used by the researchers could lead to a number of breakthroughs, including the use of cheaper commodity chips, such as those made by Intel and Nvidia, in high-performance routers, in place of custom-made hardware. The software developed by the researchers could also serve as a testbed for novel networking protocols that might eventually replace the decades-old ones on which the Internet currently runs.

"We started with the humble goal of being the first to get a PC router to 10 [gigabytes per second], but we pushed it to 40," says Sue Moon, leader of the lab in which the research was conducted. Her students Sangjin Han and Keon Jang developed software called PacketShader that made this possible. PacketShader uses a computer's graphics processing unit (GPU) to help process packets of data sent across a network.

Modern routers are rarely dumb switches anymore. They are often called upon to manipulate packets in a number of different ways as they pass through. GPUs are ideal for this purpose because they can process data in parallel, which means they can handle several packets of data at once. According to Moon, a GPU is much faster at handling some packet-processing tasks, such as authenticating or encrypting all of the packets in a stream. When the GPU takes over these tasks, it gives the central processing unit (CPU) breathing room to handle other things that are more serial in nature, such processing several packets in turn to detect attempts to break into a network.

Gianluca Iannaccone, an engineer at Intel Labs Berkeley who is familiar with PacketShader, says it could slash the number of physical machine needed to comprise a terabit-per-second software router to one-third of what his research has previously indicated would be require

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