Network processor design: benchmarks and architectural alternatives
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The last decade saw phenomenal growth in information technology and network communication. The network interfaces also have to keep up with the speed, throughput and capability to support all the workloads. Network processors (NPs) have recently been introduced in the network interfaces to process complex workloads. This dissertation investigates architectural alternatives for network processors. The network processor should be able to process modern network workloads without slowing down line speed. In order to handle variety of emerging applications, good understanding of the target application from the architectural perspectives is essential. While most of the previous research and commercial products for NPs are dedicated to routing and communication related to data-plane applications, control-plane applications where congestion control and QoS issues are dealt with are not well understood. With the demands of emerging network applications, it is imperative to develop and quantitatively characterize the NP control plane workloads to guide architects for designing future NPs. In this dissertation, a new benchmark suite, called NpBench, is proposed for network processors and its architectural workload characteristics are studied. The NpBench suite includes 5 control plane applications and 5 data plane applications. The NpBench suite is implemented using C and is opened to public. Large number of institutions in the world has licensed and several papers and articles cite the NpBench. The NpBench suite fills a major void that exists in the evaluation and benchmarks of NPs. Another major contribution of this dissertation is architectural enhancements for network processing. First the parallelism characteristics of network processing applications were investigated to see the possibility of identifying it statically. Based on the investigation, it is found that the success of VLIW in the multimedia field can be applied to the network processor domain as a processing element for a parallel architectural implementation. As alternative solutions of existing network processor architectures, hardware acceleration techniques are proposed to deal with new emerging workloads. Also, the feasibility of extracting common ISA extensions over variety of network workloads is investigated for accelerating the capability of a processing element within a parallel architecture.