Ethernity Networks’ Router-on-NIC feature provides a high-performance switch/router data plane including Carrier Ethernet Switch, Layer 3 forwarding, protocol interworking, and traffic management, ideal for any application that requires the agility of a virtual router with the performance of a physical router appliance.
Both traditional routers and virtual routers use network protocol software to calculate forwarding rules. While a physical router uses a dedicated packet processor in hardware to forward traffic, a virtual router performs the same forwarding functions in a software instance. Virtual routers typically run on commodity servers, and usually come alongside other virtual network functions.
In contrast, Ethernity offers FPGA SmartNICs with Router-on-NIC that contain true packet processing and forwarding capabilities of a physical router implemented on an FPGA-based network interface card. It includes all standard NIC functionality and delivers all the benefits of a traditional router. This unique, compact offering is enabled by Ethernity’s patented packet processing and traffic manager design ported onto an FPGA.

Benefits of Router-on-NIC

Software-defined networking and network virtualization are replacing traditional hardware appliances, since software offers an unrivaled level of flexibility when it comes to both features and vendor choice. However, it is much less efficient to perform networking functions that require deterministic performance with high bandwidth, low latency, and a high level of security in software than it is to use a hardware forwarding packet processing device.
Network function virtualization with full hardware offload addresses this need. While other SmartNICs can offload certain networking functions, the actual data still needs to be forwarded by virtual software. Ethernity’s Router-on-NIC feature can perform complete data plane forwarding and beyond. Ethernity’s FPGA SmartNIC is able to handle fully compliant Carrier Ethernet Switching, IEEE 1588 sync, Layer 3 routing, protocol interworking, traffic management, and IPSec. Router-on-NIC combines the advantages of a software-based virtual router with the performance and security of a physical router, and it does so in a smaller footprint, with less power consumption, and at a lower total cost.

Router-on-NIC Features

Router-on-NIC brings the full feature set of any Carrier-grade switch-router to the SmartNIC. Its features include Carrier Ethernet switching, as well as Layer 3 routing and other general router functionality.
Switching capabilities include transparent and VLAN bridging; standard protocols (including several STP, LLDP, and registration protocols); security features such as DHCP snooping and IP Source Guard; link aggregation; clock synchronization; and testing features. It also includes many advanced switching protocols, such as MPLS, VPLS, and others.
Ethernity’s Router-on-NIC supports all Layer 3 routing protocols and methods, including unicast and multicast, with both IPv4 and IPv6. Router-on-NIC handles network address translation (NAT) and provides full support for VRRP and BFD.
Router-on-NIC has a complete suite of management features and also supports network virtualization overlays and tunneling, such as VxLAN, GRE, and GTP (for 5G). It comes with hierarchical traffic management to maintain the highest levels of quality of service, with features such as ACLs, queuing, policing, shaping, rate limiting, and QoS profiles. It maintains security with IPSec, while providing media access with PPP, PPPoE, and others.

Use Cases

With these and other features, Router-on-NIC can provide full routing functionality from an FPGA-based network interface card on a standard x86 server. It is optimal for any scenario where a router is needed but space is limited.
Router-on-NIC becomes truly essential in cases where multiple forwarding schemes are needed and a typical SmartNIC would not be sufficient. Applications such as virtual Broadband Network Gateway (vBNG), 5G User Plane Function (UPF), SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) acceleration, and Cell Site Router usually demand both Layer 2 switching functionality, L3 routing, and other features that otherwise must be included on a dedicated device.
Virtualization of broadband network gateways gives service providers the flexibility and scalability to keep up with rapidly increasing internet traffic in their network and is used to replace traditional broadband network gateways or remote access servers. BNGs are used by service providers to aggregate access devices and bridge the gap between the core and access networks. The BNG is also responsible for enforcing QoS policies at that point.
However, relying completely on software virtualization to accomplish routing tasks usually means compromising on performance speed, determinism, and latency. Ideally, service providers would like to achieve the performance of hardware devices with the flexibility that comes with virtualized appliances and avoid vendor lock-in, as well. Other SmartNICs can offer certain networking functions, but the actual data still must be forwarded by virtual software without a way to accelerate Layer 3 IP traffic and functions such as NAT, MAC translation, packet analysis, and statistics.  Performance will ultimately be limited by vBNG software forwarding capabilities.
Another example where Ethernity’s Router-on-NIC performs well is User Plane Function. UPF is part of 5G mobile network architecture (after the separation of the control and user planes). Ethernity’s FPGA SmartNIC is ideal for accelerating the UPF data plane. Operations such as conversion between IPoE/GTP and MAC/IP forwarding, counters, router, monitoring, NAT, and H-QoS, are best handled by the ENET flow processor embedded on an FPGA, whereas when software attempts to handle the same functions, it is very inefficient. Moreover, software forwarding leads to excessive latency, which is a critical feature in 5G networks. Layer 3 traffic offload is critical for full UPF, which also needs several other Layer 3 functions like key management, UE cell selection, and QoS, on top of all its Layer 2 functions.
In a similar vein, Router-on-NIC can be used in the virtualization of the 5G Distributed Unit (DU) with hardware offload for fronthaul aggregation with full Carrier Ethernet Switch, OAM/CFM, and router functionality.
In each of these cases, Router-on-NIC provides full offload of Layer 3 networking functions to create a virtualized solution that can adhere to the strictest requirements of bandwidth, latency, determinism, and security, without locking vendors or limiting feature flexibility.
Ethernity’s FPGA-based Router-on-NIC provides the solution for many use cases at the mobile network edge as well, with all the standard features of a physical router on a NIC. It enables wirespeed performance while saving power and space at the edge where it is most needed.
Router-on-NIC can also be used in SD-WAN to save space. Each campus or branch connected to the SD-WAN needs an access router in addition to its own enterprise routers to communicate with the SD-WAN, alert it to broken links, and so on. Instead of adding another physical router where there may be limited space, a Router-on-NIC can be used inside a uCPE to effectively create a “double router.” One router is used for the enterprise (customer) network, while the other can be connected to the carrier network. This allows customers to use their own uCPE to connect to the carrier network.