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How Ericsson Leverages DPDK for Data Plane Acceleration in the Cloud

By September 5, 2023February 28th, 2024User Stories

Introduction

In the fast-paced world of telecommunications, companies are constantly seeking solutions to address evolving challenges and meet the demands of their customers. Ericsson, a global leader in the industry, has been at the forefront of incorporating new technologies into its product portfolio. One such technology is the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), which has proven instrumental in revolutionizing packet processing for Ericsson’s network infrastructure. This user story delves into Ericsson’s utilization of DPDK, the benefits it has brought, and the challenges associated with transitioning to a cloud-native environment.

Ericsson’s Shifting Landscape 

Ericsson, a prominent vendor in the telecommunications domain, has a rich history of innovation and adaptability. With over 100,000 employees and a diverse range of products, Ericsson has witnessed a significant shift from traditional infrastructure to cloud-native solutions. As the industry embraces cloud-native architectures, Ericsson recognizes the importance of incorporating new technologies that align with this paradigm shift. DPDK, though not entirely new, has emerged as a critical component within Ericsson’s product portfolio, facilitating efficient packet processing and enabling the company to remain competitive in an evolving market.

Exploring DPDK’s Role

Niklas Widell – Standardization Manager at Ericsson AB, and Maria Lingemark – Senior Software Engineer at Ericsson shed light on the company’s adoption of DPDK. Maria, who has been involved in evaluating and utilizing DPDK since 2016, emphasizes the need for high-speed packet processing and the ability to split packet flows into multiple parallel streams. DPDK’s Event Dev implementation has been instrumental in achieving these goals, enabling Ericsson to process a large number of packets per second while maintaining the flexibility to distribute packet processing across multiple steps.

Transitioning from Specialized Hardware 

Before incorporating DPDK, Ericsson relied on proprietary ASIC hardware to handle packet processing. However, the company recognized the need to shift toward more readily deployable commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware solutions. DPDK played a crucial role in enabling Ericsson to transition from specialized hardware to a more versatile and scalable environment, reducing the reliance on custom solutions and increasing the reach of their offerings to a broader customer base.

Flexibility and Cost Efficiency

DPDK offers Ericsson the flexibility to deploy their packet processing solutions across a range of hardware configurations, both on ASIC hardware and on common x86-based platforms. By leveraging DPDK’s capabilities, Ericsson can scale their applications and efficiently utilize the available CPU resources. Moreover, the compatibility of DPDK with multiple drivers allows Ericsson to leverage hardware-specific features where available, enhancing performance and optimizing resource utilization.

Challenges of Observability and Cloud-Native Adoption 

As Ericsson embraces cloud-native architectures, they encounter challenges related to observability, performance monitoring, and troubleshooting. Observing and comprehending the behavior of a complex system that processes packets in parallel across multiple CPUs and threads can be daunting. Balancing observability with performance optimization becomes crucial, requiring continuous refinement and adaptation. Additionally, the shift to cloud-based deployments necessitates rethinking observability strategies and ensuring seamless performance monitoring in these environments.

We needed to shift from doing packet processing on special purpose hardware, to doing it on cloud-based general compute hardware. DPDK enabled this – it created versatility and broadened external access. It significantly helped Ericsson meet our customers’ needs and demands as those changed in scale, and gave our team greater portability as well. And the ability to be able to reuse it across different departments without having to rewrite code was, and is, a significant benefit. – Maria Lingemark, Senior Software Engineer – Ericsson

To tackle the observability challenges, Ericsson leverages the eBPF (extended Berkeley Packet Filter) integration in DPDK. By deploying eBPF programs within the DPDK framework, they have achieved efficient packet processing, improved throughput, and enhanced network visibility. The flexibility offered by eBPF allows Ericsson to tailor their networking solutions to specific use cases, ensuring optimal performance and resource utilization. 

“Ericsson uses the included eBPF support in DPDK to simplify observability in complex cloud environments.” Anders Hansen, Cloud RAN System Developer – Ericsson

DPDK BBDev (Baseband Device)

DPDK BBDev (Baseband Device) plays a critical role in Ericsson’s ability to develop a portable and efficient Radio Access Network (RAN) implementation that seamlessly integrates with hardware acceleration from leading silicon vendors. This integration enables Ericsson to leverage the full potential of specialized hardware acceleration features offered by these vendors, enhancing the performance and efficiency of their RAN solutions.

By utilizing DPDK BBDev, Ericsson gains access to a standardized programming interface that abstracts the complexities of hardware-specific optimizations. This allows them to focus on developing high-performance RAN software while ensuring compatibility with various hardware platforms. The portability provided by DPDK BBDev enables Ericsson to deploy their RAN solutions across a wide range of hardware architectures, offering flexibility to their customers, while cultivating a heath ORAN eco-system in the industry.

“DPDK BBDev enables Ericsson to create a portable and efficient RAN implementation that is well integrated with HW acceleration from major silicon vendors” – Michael Lundkvist,
Principal Developer, RAN Application Architect – Ericsson

The integration of HW acceleration from major silicon vendors further boosts Ericsson’s RAN implementation. These hardware accelerators are specifically designed to offload computationally intensive tasks, such as FEC processing, resulting in improved throughput, lower latency, and reduced power consumption. By effectively utilizing these acceleration capabilities through DPDK BBDev, Ericsson delivers efficient and high-performing RAN solutions to their customers.

For more in-depth information on how DPDK BBDev enables Ericsson’s portable and efficient RAN implementation, you can refer to the white paper provided here. This white paper will delve into the technical details and showcase the advantages of integrating DPDK BBDev with hardware acceleration from major silicon vendors, offering valuable insights into Ericsson’s innovative RAN solutions.

DPDK and the Open Source Linux Foundation Community

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Ericsson derives substantial benefits from its active involvement in both the open-source DPDK (Data Plane Development Kit) community and the larger Linux Foundation. By being an integral part of these communities, Ericsson experiences several advantages that contribute to their success and technological advancements.

First and foremost, being part of the DPDK community grants Ericsson access to a thriving ecosystem of contributors and developers focused on advancing high-performance packet processing. This access enables Ericsson to stay at the forefront of technological developments, leverage new features, and benefit from ongoing enhancements to DPDK. The collaborative nature of the open-source community encourages continuous innovation, allowing Ericsson to deliver cutting-edge solutions to their customers.

Engaging in the DPDK community also fosters collaboration and knowledge sharing with industry peers and experts. Ericsson can exchange ideas, best practices, and insights, benefitting from the collective expertise of the community. This collaboration helps Ericsson overcome challenges, improve their solutions, and accelerate their development cycles, all while contributing to the growth and success of the DPDK project.

Furthermore, Ericsson experiences a faster time to market by utilizing DPDK and collaborating within the community. By leveraging the work done by the DPDK community, Ericsson can capitalize on existing libraries, APIs, and optimizations, saving valuable development effort and resources. This efficiency enables Ericsson to bring their solutions to market more rapidly, meeting customer demands, gaining a competitive edge, and seizing market opportunities promptly.

Interoperability and compatibility are additional advantages that Ericsson enjoys through their involvement in the DPDK community and the larger Linux Foundation. DPDK’s emphasis on interoperability and common standards allows Ericsson to seamlessly integrate their solutions with other systems and platforms. This compatibility fosters a broader ecosystem, enabling Ericsson to collaborate effectively with other vendors and organizations, further expanding their market reach.

Participating in these open-source communities also positions Ericsson as an influential player and thought leader in high-performance networking and packet processing. Their contributions to the DPDK project not only enhance the framework’s functionality but also demonstrate their technical expertise and commitment to open-source initiatives. Ericsson’s influence and leadership within the community allow them to shape the direction and evolution of DPDK, driving the adoption of industry standards and best practices.

Lastly, being part of the larger Linux Foundation ecosystem offers Ericsson access to a vast network of organizations, developers, and industry leaders. This ecosystem provides collaboration opportunities, potential partnerships, and access to a network of expertise. By leveraging these connections, Ericsson can foster innovation, explore joint development efforts, and stay at the forefront of technological advancements in networking and telecommunications.