Thursday, October 21, 2010

One Giant Step for Interop, Two Small Steps for IPv6 in the Data Center

By David Gross

Interop came out with a press release at its own show yesterday saying that it is giving back virtually all of the 45.x.x.x block of IPv4 addresses that have been allocated to it since 1995.   Yes, this one trade event has set 16 million IP addresses free, or nearly one half of one percent of all IPv4 addresses available for public use.   I hope Hurricane Electric adjusts the IPv4 depletion clock on their website.

Nonetheless, the news on IPv6 keeps rolling, with NetLogic (NETL) announcing a new TCAM chip, or as their marketing department prefers to call it, a "knowledge-based processor".  Underneath the glossy product category name, this new memory chip, the NL10k, supports up to 1.6 billion decisions per second for IPv6 routing, which is an important development for core routers, but not for the $1,000 per port Top-of-Rack switches we've been hearing about over the last week.  Part of the reason those products are so cheap is that they don't give you too many options over where to send data when the cables attached them only go for 10 meters.   So they don't need fancy memory chips or sophisticated operating systems.

The NetLogic chip can store up to 256,000 IPv6 addresses, and 1 million IPv4 addresses.   TCAMs, or Ternary Content Address Memories, work by adding a third state of "x" to the normal 0 and 1 binary combination.   This "x" is needed to block out the host address in the routing lookup, which greatly reduces the time needed to forward the packet compared to a binary CAM, and dramatically more so than if the addresses were stored in conventional RAM.

The use of TCAMs grew dramatically in the middle of last decade with increasing shipments of 10 gigabit ports on data networking devices, which needed the chips to maintain performance at high line rates while searching through routing tables.   NetLogic was the leading supplier in this segment, and Wall Street fell in love with its stock in 2005.   IPv6 presents another networking development that could accelerate NetLogic's growth, although I still think it will progress far more slowly than people panicking about IPv4 address depletion expect.

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