Data center networking standards are constantly evolving – both for IP networks and for new software-defined networks (SDN).


This leaves most switch chip makers to either wait for the final standard to hard-code the protocols in their device, or to augment the switch with lower-performance programmable silicon and count on a software enhancement to boost speed after the chip has been designed into a system. 


Neither is ideal. That’s why we built innovative support for upgradeable microcode into the Intel® FlexPipe™ packet-processing engine that is the foundation of Intel’s Alta switch chip architecture, the basis of the Intel® Ethernet FM6000 family of low latency switches.  Microcode support gives FM6000 chips the ability to run new protocols with performance of a hard-coded solution and the flexibility of a software solution. 


Typically, when one hears the term microcode and programmability, it is assumed that the architecture is a run-to-completion or non-deterministic model.  FlexPipe operates in a deterministic manner, meaning that with any possible microcode implementation, the engine will maintain up to one billion packets per second of throughput performance and less than 400ns of L3 processing latency.


With the use of microcode, we can provide customers with a rich set of flexible features that can be adapted to changing market needs. Our customers can get to market early, before industry groups finalize standards, allowing future-proof system designs. It also allows customers to support standards that haven’t yet been introduced into the standards committees.



This means that the parsing and matching logic needed to forward SDN packets can be built into the switch today, as can some of the existing and evolving IP data center standards such as MPLS, IPinIP, NAT, EVB, VxLAN, NVGRE, FCoE or other proprietary switching headers for vertical markets. In addition, system administrators can test new SDN implementations while maintaining normal network operation with the use of two simultaneous microcode images.



FlexPipe is the key differentiator for the FM6000 family, giving them the performance and flexibility they need to deliver the top-of-rack switch performance necessary for high-port count virtualized networks.