Intel Adds VRAN Acceleration To Its Latest 4th Gen Xeon Scalable SoCs

At this week’s MWC, Intel announced new, communications-focused members of its latest generation of Xeon processors, the 4th Genth Scalable Xeon generation processors with Intel vRAN Boost. These system-on-chips (SoCs) are designed with extensions specifically tailored to accelerate packet and signal processing workloads in virtual radio access networks (vRANs). These processors are also designed to accelerate other workloads that typically run in vRAN environments, such as B. Load balancing, AI and machine learning (AI/ML) and dynamic power management. The company claims that these accelerated Xeon processors can deliver the same or better performance-per-watt compared to the “best” Layer 1 physical layer (SOC) accelerator cards currently on the market.

This 4thth Xeon generation SoCs are designed for use by Communication Service Providers (CoSPs) building their 5G networks using vRANs. Intel claims that 99% of today’s vRAN deployments are already using Intel Xeon processors running the company’s FlexRAN software. The 4th Xeon Generation SoCs run this software unmodified and can deliver power and performance benefits just by improving from generation to generation, but the new Xeon Scalable processors include special instruction extensions called Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX) for vRAN that allow the 4thth Xeon generation processors enable twice the vRAN traffic capacity at the same power consumption compared to the company’s 3 processorsapprox Xeon generation scalable devices. Additionally, Intel claims these enhancements eliminate the need for companion vRAN accelerator cards, further reducing power consumption by up to 20% and lowering vRAN total cost of ownership (TCO).

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Although these accelerated 4th Xeon Generation Scalable SoCs can run existing FlexRAN code directly. A new version of the FlexRAN software is required to take full advantage of the enhancements. Intel says it has made such changes to its FlexRAN software to support a wide range of 5G scenarios, including sub-6GHz, mmWave, small cell, and private wireless network deployments. The company also supports independent software vendors (ISVs) so they can modify their software to take advantage of the new vRAN enhancements through a range of updated software development tools, libraries and software kits. A necessary vRAN feature that will be included in this new 4th Gen Xeon Scalable SoCs support the IEEE-1588 Precision Time Protocol (PTP). Instead, Intel relies on its E810 series of Ethernet adapters for PTP support.

Intel’s decision to add 4 vRAN specific extensions to this groupth Gen Xeon Scalable SoCs reflect the company’s strategy to enable all servers in a CoSP’s data center to implement vRANs. When all processors in the data center integrate these extensions, the CoSP can scale up or down its vRAN footprint in the data center according to the traffic load of the participants. This approach eliminates the need to add accelerator cards to a subset of the data center’s servers just to meet the processing needs of the vRAN workload, which should simplify data center maintenance and upgrade strategies.

Several Intel system customers, including Advantech, Canonical, Ericsson, Quanta Cloud Technology and Supermicro, already support these 4 or have signed up for supportth Scalable Xeon generation processors with vRAN extensions. You’ve probably found the hardware conversion particularly easy, since the processors with vRAN extensions are socket-compatible with other 4th Scalable processors of the Xeon generation.

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Adding these vRAN extensions to the 4th The generation Xeon Scalable processors are in line with Intel’s current philosophy of continually updating the Xeon architecture with accelerators to meet the evolving needs of its customers. For more perspectives on this topic, see my colleague Jim McGregor’s recent article on entitled “Sapphire Rapids Is A Critical Turning Point For Intel.”

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