Intel wants to turn PCs into router bricks

Chip giant Intel believes that clusters of general-purpose PC hardware known as “Routebricks” could one day replace traditional network router equipment.

According to Intel researcher Gianluca Iannaccone, Routebricks would enable programmers to quickly build or reprogram networks using the hardware and software platforms they are most comfortable with.

“Routebricks can best be defined as a novel network architecture in which packets are processed in software running on clusters of general-purpose PC hardware,” Iannaccone told TechEye at a recent event in Silicon Valley.

“By clustering multiple such servers together, we can build software-based routers that are modified via a SW upgrade. In addition, high performance – 1+ Tbps – can be achieved by adding more servers to the clusters.”


Iannaccone explained that Routebricks would offer a number of other advantages, including low-cost, higher-volume manufacturing, widespread supply-support, advanced power management options and consolidation of specialized network appliances.  

To illustrate his point, Iannaccone showed TechEye a RouteBricks system comprising four dual-socket Nehalem-EP servers and eight 10 Gbps  Ethernet NICs.

The prototype, dubbed RB8/4, is apparently capable of acting as an 8 port, 10Gbps per port IPv4 router that is fully compliant with RFC 1812.

But although RB8/4 is quite an impressive leap forward, it remains far from certain if the “Routebricks” concept will enjoy wide-scale adoption anytime soon.

Indeed, chip expert David Kanter  told TechEye that for Intel, software routing is about new ways to use products, rather than R&D for manufacturing or chip design.

“[So], like other software-based approaches (e.g. software-defined radios), the question is whether the convenience and flexibility (upgrade SW instead of ripping out HW) is sufficiently valuable and what the performance and power efficiency costs are.”