Concurrent Implementation of Packet Processing Algorithms on Network Processors
Network Processor Units (NPUs) are a compromise between software-based and hardwired packet processing solutions. While slower than hardwired solutions, NPUs have the flexibility of software-based solutions, allowing them to adapt faster to changes in network protocols. <br /><br /> Network processors have multiple processing engines so that multiple packets can be processed simultaneously within the NPU. In addition, each of these processing engines is multi-threaded, with special hardware support built in to alleviate some of the cost of concurrency. This hardware design allows the NPU to handle multiple packets concurrently, so that while one thread is waiting for a memory access to complete, another thread can be processing a different packet. By handling several packets simultaneously, an NPU can achieve similar processing power as traditional packet processing hardware, but with greater flexibility. <br /><br /> The flexibility of network processors is also one of the disadvantages associated with them. Programming a network processor requires an in-depth understanding of the hardware as well as a solid foundation in concurrent design and programming. This thesis explores the challenges of programming a network processor, the Intel IXP2400, using a single-threaded packet scheduling algorithm as a sample case. The algorithm used is a GPS approximation scheduler with constant time execution. The thesis examines the process of implementing the algorithm in a multi-threaded environment, and discusses the scalability and load-balancing aspects of such an algorithm. In addition, optimizations are made to the scheduler implementation to improve the potential concurrency. The synchronization primitives available on the network processor are also examined, as they play a significant part in minimizing the overhead required to synchronize memory accesses by the algorithm.