Kontron, a global provider of IoT/embedded computing technology (ECT) and of cloud and carrier-class integrated infrastructure platforms, and Napatech (OSLO: NAPA.OL), a provider of programmable smart network interface cards (SmartNICs) used for data processing unit (DPU) and infrastructure processing unit (IPU) services in telecom, cloud, enterprise, cybersecurity and financial applications, have announced a collaboration on an optimized platform for hosting the 5G User Plane Function as part of packet core deployments in telco edge data centers and private networks.
Technology value proposition
As noted by the partners, unlike in most 4G networks based on purpose-built appliances, the 5G packet core is implemented as virtualized or cloud-native software running on servers located in telco edge facilities as well as enterprise private networks.
As communications service providers (CSPs) and enterprises scale up the deployments of their 5G networks, they face strong financial pressure to maximize the number of users that can be supported on each server, whether individual subscribers or IoT devices, thereby minimizing the net cost-per-user.
At the same time, they are challenged to deploy servers in remote locations that lack the air conditioning, heating, physical security and abundant, low-cost power associated with traditional cloud data centers.
Within 5G packet core software, the subsystem that represents the highest compute workload is the User Plane Function (UPF), which performs critical packet inspection, routing and forwarding functions.
Since general-purpose server CPUs are not well suited to the performance and latency requirements of real-time packet processing, network operators and 5G core software vendors increasingly adopt solutions for offloading the UPF to accelerator cards optimized for executing such workloads.
Kontron and Napatech are collaborating to address these important challenges around 5G packet core deployments by integrating Napatech's hardware/software solution that comprises a fully-offloaded UPF fast path running on an FPGA-based programmable SmartNIC together with Kontron's ME1310 edge server, which is optimized to solve the challenges of restricted space and power in order to enable complex applications to run at the network edge.
Napatech's UPF data path is implemented as a port-to-port inline or "hairpinned" architecture, which ensures that following initial setup all flows are processed on the SmartNIC with no need to pass traffic to and from the server CPU, maximizing the overall performance of the system.
In a representative edge use case analyzed by the company, the Napatech UPF offload solution enables network operators to support 75x more users per server than with a software-based UPF and 7x more users per server than with a competing ASIC-based SmartNIC.
Kontron's ME1310 edge server, featuring an Intel Xeon D-2700 processor, delivers a long life with a wide temperature range (-40°C to +65°C) in a small form factor mechanical footprint.
By integrating multiple hardware entities into a single, highly robust unit, OPEX and TCO are reduced through minimizing requirements for air conditioning, heating and cabling, while reducing the number of potential failure points, installation complexity and the space required for deployment.
Optimal use cases
The complete UPF offload platform, comprising the Kontron ME1310 edge server together with Napatech's NT200 200Gbps SmartNIC running its Link-Inline software stack, is available for remote access by packet core independent software vendors (ISVs).
This enables these ISVs to accelerate the integration of their software with the Kontron/Napatech platform since it removes the need for them to install and configure servers in their own labs. Per the partners, these integrations will in turn accelerate the availability of system-level, hardware-software packet core solutions optimized for edge locations, that leverage UPF offload to deliver best-in-class ROI, ready for deployment by CSPs and enterprises.
Roy Chua, founder and principal, AvidThink, asserted:
"Kontron and Napatech each bring important technology that addresses the complex challenges of running a 5G packet core at the edge of the network, whether in a telco or enterprise environment. By collaborating on an integrated and robust hardware solution that maximizes the performance of the most compute-intensive packet core workload (UPF), they are addressing a key market requirement. Together, they can accelerate the deployment of 5G use cases."
Buck Fambrough, director of global sales for telco/media at Kontron, commented:
"Our ME1310 edge server is the ideal platform for hosting 5G packet core functions in edge locations that lack the comforts of cloud data centers. Our collaboration with Napatech allows us to extend the functionality of this server and offer a version that accelerates the UPF in order to maximize the cost-efficiency of packet core deployments."
Charlie Ashton, senior director of business development, Napatech, concluded:
"Through our partner ecosystem, Napatech ensures that our UPF offload solution is available to CSPs and enterprises via products from industry-leading server OEMs and software vendors. We are delighted to be collaborating with Kontron to provide this UPF offload capability within their ME1310 family of servers. By making these servers available to our software partners, we're confident that Kontron will accelerate the availability of integrated, system-level packet core solutions ready for deployment in edge locations."
Kontron and Napatech will be showcasing their jointly developed integrated 5G UPF offload platform at the Layer123 World Congress in London from Dec. 5-7.