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Kontron and Napatech collaborate on 5G User Plane Function

Kontron, a leading global provider of IoT/Embedded Computing Technology (ECT) and of cloud and carrier-class integrated infrastructure platforms, and NapatechTM, the leading provider of programmable Smart Network Interface Cards (SmartNICs) used for Data Processing Unit (DPU) and Infrastructure Processing Unit (IPU) services in telecom, cloud, enterprise, cybersecurity and financial applications worldwide, today announced their collaboration on an optimized platform for hosting the 5G User Plane Function as part of packet core deployments in telco edge data centers and private networks. Kontron and Napatech will showcase this platform at Layer123 World Congress in London from Dec. 5th through 7th.

Unlike in most 4G networks based on purpose-built appliances, the 5G packet core is implemented as virtualized or cloud-native software running on servers located in telco edge facilities as well as enterprise private networks. As Communications Service Providers (CSPs) and enterprises scale up the deployments of their 5G networks, they face strong financial pressure to maximize the number of users that can be supported on each server, whether individual subscribers or IoT devices, thereby minimizing the net cost-per-user. At the same time, they are challenged to deploy servers in remote locations that lack the air conditioning, heating, physical security and abundant, low-cost power associated with traditional cloud data centers.

Within 5G packet core software, the subsystem that represents the highest compute workload is the User Plane Function (UPF), which performs critical packet inspection, routing and forwarding functions. Since general-purpose server CPUs are not well suited to the performance and latency requirements of real-time packet processing, network operators and 5G core software vendors increasingly adopt solutions for offloading the UPF to accelerator cards optimized for executing such workloads.

Kontron and Napatech are collaborating to addresses these important challenges around 5G packet core deployments by integrating Napatech’s hardware/software solution that comprises a fully-offloaded UPF fast path running on an FPGA-based programmable SmartNIC together with Kontron’s ME1310 edge server, which is optimized to solve the challenges of restricted space and power in order to enable complex applications to run at the network edge.

Napatech’s UPF data path is implemented as a port-to-port inline or “hairpinned” architecture, which ensures that following initial setup all flows are processed on the SmartNIC with no need to pass traffic to and from the server CPU, maximizing the overall performance of the system. In a representative edge use case analyzed by the company, the Napatech UPF offload solution enables network operators to support 75x more users per server than with a software- based UPF and 7x more users per server than with a competing ASIC-based SmartNIC.

Kontron’s ME1310 edge server, featuring an Intel® Xeon® D-2700 processor, delivers a long life with a wide temperature range (-40°C to +65°C) in a small form factor mechanical footprint. By integrating multiple hardware entities into a single, highly robust unit, OPEX and TCO are reduced through minimizing requirements for air conditioning, heating and cabling, while reducing the number of potential failure points, installation complexity and the space required for deployment.

CT Bureau

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