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Cavium launches its new 24-core Octeon-TX processor

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May 3, 2016

Cavium said today it's pushing its new ARM architecture over MIPS in its next-generation network processors.

It's a clear sign that more and more serious networking equipment is likely to be ARM-powered rather than MIPS in the near future, industry observers are now saying.

The Octeon-TX family of system-on-chips will use up to twenty-four 64-bit ARM v8 cores taken from Cavium's ThunderX range of server-grade CPUs.

Previous Octeon SoCs have used 64-bit MIPS cores. Founded 15 years ago, San Jose-based Cavium is what's called a 'fabless' semiconductor designer that produces chips for the likes of Cisco, F5, Aruba, Netgear, Nokia Siemens, Juniper, Samsung, LG and several others.

Its Octeon SoCs also turn up in cellphone base stations, and edge and core switches and routers, where MIPS (Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages) is a traditional network architecture.

With the Octeon-TX, Cavium has removed MIPS out of Octeon, kept the underlying networking-focused silicon in place, and locked in its server-class ARM ThunderX cores.

It's aiming these chips at storage and data center products, switches, industrial and embedded control systems, security boxes, and virtualized network appliances.

But to be fair, the MIPS architecture hasn't been completely abandoned, however. A spokesman for Cavium told us that the MIPS-based Octeon system-on-chips are still in production-- "The entire MIPS based OCTEON III product family that is in the same technology node, is still in production. We are simply extending the line to include ARM-based SoCs."

But judging from these Cavium slides, the future of Octeon lies in the ability to run established Linux distributions and open-source stacks and right now, Cavium feels ARM is best suited for those jobs.

As Cavium says, the Octeon-TX uses ARM to take advantage of the "rich software ecosystem, extended support of open source applications and virtualization features of the ThunderX family of server processors." Basically, it didn't want to do that on MIPS.

Of course, there is plenty of tried-true-and-tested proprietary MIPS software out there for running base stations and core routers, some will say.

But Cavium's on to the fact that more and more businesses and data centers want to run a mix of closed and open-source software on their networking equipment, and ARM is seen as a better choice than MIPS in this market segment.

And while there's nothing wrong with the MIPS architecture in itself, ARM has a strong momentum behind it right now, plenty of engineers are aware of it, and lots of software is ported to it already.

"Once upon a time you just couldn’t take an embedded processor and run, say, Python on it. It was an issue," said Venkat Sundaresan, director of product line marketing for Cavium's Infrastructure Processor Group.

"With modern ARM cores, all of this is now available," he added. There's also the fact that Cavium wants to bring the server-grade hypervisor features of the ThunderX line into the Octeon mix.

Modern MIPS has virtualization support in hardware, too, but Cavium went with its homegrown ARM-flavored technology anyway.

Source: Cavium Technologies.

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